Coming three years after their brooding, ultra-serious concept album 'Drones', Teignmouth's finest release their eighth studio album in the form of 'Simulation Theory', which saw it's first single released a full eighteen months before the "parent" record was released.
To be perfectly frank, 'Dig Down' wasn't the best choice of a single to lead off the album (it was their most disappointing new material since the Olympics tie-in song 'Survival'), sounding as it does like a bizarre mash-up of a remix of their own song 'Madness' crossed with a version of 'Faith' that George Michael probably discarded early on in the song's development (no offence, George, God rest your soul).
It's by no means Muse's best album ever, however it does have its highlights. Album opener 'Algorithm', with its burbling synth lines, hard-hitting electronic beats, piano trembles and hints of Queen is suitably over-the-top, melodramatic fun, and this feel is reflected in the closing number 'The Void', which at times wishes it could be part of the 'Stranger Things' soundtrack, but doesn't suffer at all in doing so.
The tracks listeners were familiar with prior to the album's release ('Thought Contagion', 'Something Human' and 'The Dark Side' - as well as most recent single 'Pressure') are perhaps the best tracks on offer here, with things coming slightly off the rails with the cringy power-ballad misfire 'Get Up and Fight', 'Break It to Me' (which just seems like filler) and the wannabe protest-anthem 'Blockades'.
'Propaganda', with its stuttering vocal refrain, breathy vocals and Prince-esque guitar licks, shows they can indulge their R 'n' B groove when they want to, but is hardly a genre-busting classic - after all, we heard similar (and better) on 'Supermassive Black Hole' way back in 2006.
The biggest moans I've heard personally from fans is that this record has ditched the riffs, the head-banging rock gems and the flair that make Muse one of the best live acts going - it's very synth-heavy (parts of 'The Void' sound like a Jean Michel Jarre composition), and despite the theme of us being trapped in a computer-generated, simulated world, the tracks don't really gel together as well as they should in terms of telling a story. It feels like a concept album without a fully-formed back story, as if parts of the plot are missing in action. The whole ethos of the album just seems a little too late to make a proper impact - pop-culture moments such as 'Blade Runner', 'The Matrix' and 'Stranger Things' are all fine to reference, but there's very much a sense of "been there, done that".
The deluxe CD/Vinyl edition takes things further, with spiffing clear vinyl LPs, some great 'Star Wars' and 'Stranger Things' style artwork and TEN bonus tracks - unfortunately not brand new music, but re-workings of the album tracks in various styles. Some of these work excellently (the stripped down take on 'The Dark Side' - both with and without vocals, an orchestral 'Algorithm' and a piano-led 'The Void'). Some are fine alternate versions (a gospel choir on 'Dig Down', a live 'Thought Contagion', an American college brass-band version of 'Pressure'), but some are just a bit wonky (a crap remix of the so-so 'Break It to Me' and 'Something Human' and 'Propaganda' performed acoustically, neither of which fail to either add or take away anything from the originals).
Saying this, the 2019 live shows will doubtless be spectacular, and Matt will very likely have a new guitar that he'll probably play via remote control. Or it will take off by itself and zoom around the stadium while he cranks out the solo of 'Plug In Baby' on a Kaoss Pad or something equally as bizarre. There will likely be lasers. But after taking everything into consideration, one thing is for sure. 'Dig Down' is still a bit shit.
HIGHLIGHTS: Algorithm/The Dark Side/Pressure/The Void
Review by Pete Muscutt