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It would be fair to say that my opinion of Muse has always been mixed. I love the band's early albums which were chaotic and vibrant, demonstrating a clear combination of technical brilliance with showmanship. Unfortunately, I feel like this has been on the decline since the release of Black Holes And Revelations in 2006 with recent projects such as Drones, 2nd Law and The Resistance feeling somewhat dry and soulless. It's therefore fair to say I went into this album with little to no expectations.
Somehow I was still disappointed.
Abandoning the de-tuned and monstrous riffs that defined their early work, Bellamy and Co opt for a completely different style by trying to quickly cash in on the current wave of 80's nostalgia. In trying to sum up this album to a friend, I described it as "Matt Bellamy does Tron" and I don't think I can really better that. From the throbbing Stranger Things-esque bass line that begins the title track 'Algorithms' to the wild and arpeggiating leads of 'Blockades' that wouldn't sound out of place in Blade Runner, inspiration is clearly pulled from 80s synth-pop. There's no subtlety to this, Muse repeatedly batter you round the head with their influences on this album which comes across as extremely derivative. Fortunately, the band hasn't completely jettisoned their cranked Marshall amplifiers in favour of Yamaha CS-80s. The highlights of the album are the tracks 'Algorithm', 'The Dark Side' and 'Blockades' on which the band successfully combine synth-wave with the fuzzy riffs of previous albums. Guitar work and drum grooves are intricate and technical, and Bellamy's vocal delivery is theatrical and quasi-operatic.
The addition of producers Timbaland and Shellback create an overly produced mess on tracks such as 'Get Up and Fight', an insipid and dreary pop song with a paint-by-numbers chorus that tries to hide a complete lack of sophistication by turning the volume to 11 and hoping no one notices. It's hard regard tracks like these as anything other than a desperate ploy to get on James Corden's Carpool Karaoke. Then there's 'Something Human', a naff and underwhelming blemish on an already sub-par album with madly misguided incorporation of acoustic guitar and George Michael-esque balladry. On this track, the irritating 'no one understands the pain of being a superstar' lyrics make me long for the bleak paranoia of Drones. Bellamy has never been an incredible song writer, but lyrics on tracks such as 'Thought Contagion' seem like they were written by an edgy teenager who's watched too much Black Mirror and had his first joint.
Whilst I admire the trio for trying to reinvent themselves and for tackling completely different genres, Simulation Theory is an album weighed down by misguided pop-sensibilities that drown out raucous synth and guitar melodies. There are glimmers of a good project in certain tracks but, for me, it's just not enough to overcome the overabundance of cheesy instrumentals and on the nose lyricism that plague so much of this album.