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CD of The Week

Week of 11/19/18

    Muse - Simulation Theory (Warner Bros.)

    For nearly two decades, Muse has been releasing albums with increasing complexity and ambition. Over their past few records, the trio of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard have created concept albums based around the intersection of technology, government and societal fears. Following the paranoid Drones, the band takes a crack at virtual reality on their newest release Simulation Theory. However, there are no large multi-part suites this time around holding a theme together, as for the first time in a while, they seem content to simply release a batch of songs.

    This vibe may have come in part by the way that Simulation Theory was recorded. Muse took their time recording some of the new tracks on and off while on tour, putting out a few singles along the way. We got "Dig Down" way back in May of last year and "Thought Contagion" this past February.

    Album opener "Algorithm" sounds straight out of the Stranger Things score before strings and Bellamy's piano flourishes come in to let you know you're in Muse territory. Bellamy starts singing of techno-fear right away with lyrics about how "algorithms push us aside and render us obsolete."

    The wild single "Pressure" merges buzzy riffs with horns, and I recommend you check out the alternate version on the "super deluxe" edition of the album, where they go all "Tusk" and are backed by the UCLA Bruin Marching Band. "Something Human"'s strumming acoustic guitar gives a different texture you don't usually hear from Muse. It's appropriately on the most "human" sounding song on the record, where Bellamy just wants to get off the road and back home to his loved ones. Simulation Theory also gives us the latest in Muse's series of songs about fighting the power, as last year's resistance anthem "Dig Down" is joined by the pleading arena rock ballad "Get Up and Fight."

    Sometimes Muse try to stuff in too many musical ideas and styles into one song, such as the Prince-esque "Propaganda" and "Break It To Me." The dark, ominous "Thought Contagion" also falls into the trap of using those Imagine Dragons "whoa OHHH OHHH" vocals that are in vogue for alt-rock radio nowadays.

    Additionally, it seems the band was almost more focused on the visuals for this album. The series of wild and often-absurd videos released for Simulation Theory play homage to Teen Wolf, Back to the Future and even non-Michael J. Fox movies from the band members' childhood. They even went a step further by hiring artist Kyle Lambert, who created the Stranger Things poster, for the album artwork.

    Muse always go big but by Drones, it felt like they'd reached a point of diminishing returns. The trio mixes in more synths and some different production tricks on Simulation Theory, but at this point, you're not getting any big surprises from them. However, if you need some big rock songs to soundtrack our impending obsolescence at the hands of Jeff Bezos, tell Alexa to play Simulation Theory.

    Muse bring their always-entertaining arena rock show back to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on April 7th.
    Review by Joey O.

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