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MusicFocus: Muse's Simulation Theory Can't Simulate Good Music

By Lucas Chiang ’22 and Calvin Mustokoff ‘22, Guest Contributor 11/16/18

Few things can be as depressing as watching your favorite band start to crumble to pieces. For the English rock band Muse, no one can deny that they had a good run, starting with the album Showbiz (1999) and creating tons of famous songs and albums along the way, such as Absolution (2003), Black Holes and Revelations (2006), and The Resistance (2009). However, all good things eventually come to an end, and that’s what happened on Nov. 9, when Muse’s eighth studio album, Simulation Theory (2018), was released. With a very underwhelming track list and a general uninspiring sound, Simulation Theory is a musical mess.

Muse was formed in 1994 by singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme, and drummer Dom Howard. For a long time, Muse was hailed as a band known for its variety; The 2nd Law (2012) featured an artsy synth rock vibe, while Drones (2015) was a much heavier album with more emphasis on the guitar, bass, and drums. Origin of Symmetry (2001) and The Resistance were based around complex musical parts and vocals, or “theater rock,” while Absolution featured more bass-heavy punk rock. Simulation Theory’s theme mainly comes from electronic dubstep rock with an additional 80’s sci-fi retro vibe, but honestly, some of the songs sound more like a 12 year-old’s first GarageBand project.

The album starts off with Algorithm, a rather underwhelming electronic dubstep. This type of music is heard quite frequently throughout the album, but right after that comes one of the better songs in the album, The Dark Side, which was also released as a single. The Dark Side definitely returns to more traditional Muse music, which means using more bass and adding a guitar solo, but still keeping the electronic synths of Simulation Theory, and, frankly, that’s what most of these songs should have been like. Following this song comes the hit single Pressure, a fun 80’s retro rock with an appealing guitar riff backed by a brass section. Here, things take a turn for the worse, however, as the next song, Propaganda, starts off as a stereotypical bad dubstep song before bursting into some poppy Timberlake-style vocals. Next up is Break it to Me, which will probably sound better live as it features a lot of unique guitar techniques, such as scratching to create an ambient noise solo. However, the opening guitar riff sounds pretty terrible and flat. After that comes Something Human, previously released as a single, and this is where I just ask, “Muse, what in your right minds are you guys doing?” Although Something Human takes a break from the painful dubstep, it instead uses a mellow guitar that sounds straight out of a bad country album. With over half of the album done, two-thirds of the songs heard so far are well past underwhelming.

Luckily, next up is the single Thought Contagion, a catchy and jamming song featuring an Imagine Dragons-style chorus. Honestly, it is just so incredibly fun to listen to, and it actually has good synths that aren’t too heavily used. The next song is Get Up and Fight, which received more mixed reviews. Personally, I like it, but I can see how longtime Muse fans won’t appreciate the vocaloid-style vocal opening. Personally, my favorite part of the song is definitely the ending keyboard. The following tune, Blockades, is certainly the highlight of the album. Blockades has it all: a catchy chorus, intricate musical riffs, and even an incredible guitar solo at the end. Honestly, I could write a whole paragraph about just how good Blockades is. It has musical parts imitative of Origin of Symmetry, a guitar part similar to Drones, and a verse and chorus alike to Absolution. Wolstenholme’s bass and Howard’s drums finally show up again, specifically the drum beat during the verse, which is just so catchy and fun to listen to. Although Pressure and Thought Contagion are, despite how good they sound, rather simple and repetitive, Blockades could have come straight from peak Muse albums such as Black Holes and Revelations or The Resistance. If you’re scared of listening to this album because of everything I said before, at least take a listen to Blockades.

Unfortunately, things certainly get worse from there with single Dig Down being rather unremarkable on all fronts. As it’s a tradition that the last song of every Muse albums is one of the worst, the only thing The Void does well is keep that tradition. Throughout the entire song, all I could think was, “just add a guitar already.” It sounds less like a Muse song and more like the Stranger Things opening. This finishes Simulation Theory with 11 songs, maybe four of which are as good as older Muse songs. The rest of the songs are just sad. Not only are songs like Propaganda and Something Human just depressing to listen to, Muse just lacks the same feel that they originally had. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass part, the same bass that played the bass of Muse’s Hysteria (2003), which was considered by The Top Tens to be the third best bassline of all time, is practically nonexistent and when heard is constantly drowned out by the synths and vocals. To conclude, Simulation Theory is just plain disappointing.

This leaves us with the real question: can Muse ever return to its peak form? Back in 2012, when The 2nd Law was released, some fans were underwhelmed by the lighter, artsier sounds, only to be satisfied again once Drones came out, returning to Muse’s heavier roots. But now, any Muse fan would take The 2nd Law over Simulation Theory any day of the week. Simulation Theory is unlike Muse not only stylistically but in terms of music quality. The only thing Muse could really do is to go way back to its roots, with more complex “theater rock” and more guitar, bass, and drums. But if anything, Muse is heading in the opposite direction, into a more pure pop style of music using Matt Bellamy as a Justin Timberlake. I still have hope that Muse, at the very least, will remain to keep their incredible talent, and even Simulation Theory shows that Muse can become more mainstream while keeping their amazing music, as heard in songs like Pressure or Blockades. Therefore, for now, even if one of the most famous rock bands ever is starting to fall into oblivion, I can at least know that Muse will always be who they always were.

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