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Muse are rock veterans by now, and their new album Simulation Theory reflects this in its confidence and innovation. But can they match the pace they’ve set in past albums?
It’s always been kind of difficult to peg Muse as a band. They’re nerdy space-rockers who can also pack Wembley stadium. The band lives in dichotomy. They’re what would have happened if Queen had grown up on E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
On Simulation Theory, the band seems to have fully embraced their science-fiction obsession. Synth and sound effects reminiscent of Stranger Things pepper the album and paranoia is par for the course.
Muse isn’t afraid to slow things down, and they do several times on this album. For fans expecting these slow ballads to unleash in a buildup like “Knights of Cydonia” or “Supermassive Black Hole,” it never quite gets to that level. These guys seem to have calmed down, their frenetic energy replaced with a weary paranoia.
Simulation Theory isn’t going to blow you away the first time you hear it. Instead, it slowly grows on you the more you listen. Muse has never been shy about letting keyboards or other synths do the heavy lifting, but songs like “Blockades” showcase some blistering fret work.
Muse fans adore Matt Bellamy’s operatic vocals, but for newcomers, it can come across as a little bombastic. It’s definitely an impressive vocal range, but best used sparingly. Not every song needs to be a full-throated bellow. His voice has never seemed more adaptable than it does here, measuring the soaring highs with a more textured croon.
The album shines brightest when the band stops looking at the stars and comes down to Earth. The song “Pressure” has a punchy guitar riff and a great tempo. It’s the closest Muse comes to straightforward rock. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Muse has never shown interest in being ordinary. “Something Human” is an earnest plea for company underscored by a driving drum beat and a range of tempo breaks.
It speaks to Muse’s acumen that this album doesn’t come close to touching their greatest works. Simulation Theory is a solid album, from a great band. They’re interested in exploring musical spaces that other groups ignore, which makes every release worth hearing at least once. This one’s no exception.
Play: “Pressure,” “Dig Down,” “Something Human”
Listen: While hunting down an android in a neon future city, where it is always raining for some reason.