Muse has been at the forefront as one of the most appealing rock bands of the 21st century. From countless stadium tours to millions of albums sold/streamed, they're colossal giants in the genre of pop-rock. For the most part, Muse has released stellar work throughout their discography. Early records like Absolution, Order of Symmetry, and Showbiz are quintessential to the 2000's Alternative-Rock scene, whereas more recent records lean toward a more pop-rock edge, but with heavy bangers. However, the band's last album Drones (2015) was heavily criticized for sounding too cliche 'rock,' as it featured very unoriginal riffs and song structures, and offered nothing interesting to the genre as a whole. With the band's new record Simulation Theory, Muse are trying to reinvent the genre with a synth-wave meets rock twist.
When I first saw the album art to Simulation Theory (which drools 80's cyber galore), I was immediately excited to listen to Muse's take on synth-wave. I've always found it a fascinating genre; it has very retro and lo-fi aesthetics, locked in place grooves, and blissful harmony/melodic elements. Mixing this genre with rock sounds a little scary, but Muse are considerably experienced when it comes to the rock meets electronic department. For the most part Simulation Theory is a good album, but could have been a great one.
The main problem that I have with this record is its style inconsistency. Half of the songs hit the mark of great rock meets synth-wave, but a handful of songs don't sound remotely synth-wave or even rock. That's not entirely the problem - I get not wanting every song to have the exact same instrumental tropes and aesthetics, but the songs that do without synth-wave are just bad songs. "Get Up and Fight," "Something Human," and "Thought Contagion" are songs that resemble this drift in style and also quality from other songs.
Simulation Theory shines best when it gives you what's it's advertising: a collage of synth, rock, and classic hard-hitting Muse songs. From the very first song on the record, "Algorithm," I was sold on the style Muse was going for, and thought this would remain apparent the rest of the album. The second song on the album wasn't any less convincing either, in fact; "The Dark Side" resembles what Simulation Theory does best: it blends elements of synth-wave, pop, and rock for a intuitive and memorable listening experience. Other songs that give off this same impression are "Blockades," "The Void," and "Propaganda."
Again, the main problem with Simulation Theory is its inconsistent flow. The songs that work capture the synth-wave vibe, but also make for great songs. For the songs that don't work, they do little to compliment the other songs in style, and are just bad sounds on their own. That's not to say the synths are the key component in making this album work, a lot of it has to do with the blending of Muse's core genres of pop and alt-rock. Simulation Theory is a lukewarm return from Muse. It's comprised of more stellar moments than bad, but the mere fact certain songs are on this album will leave you scratching your head.