Today is a big day in rock news. Well, a fairly big one at least: Muse is releasing their 8th studio album, Simulation Theory. The band is, by all accounts, one of the biggest rock outfits out there, with the likes of Radiohead, Coldplay (if you consider them a rock band) or U2 at this point. In a little under 20 years, they have indeed indeed grown to become an international phenomenon with their very own blend of rock, classical and electronic elements. In many ways a Queen successor — because every road inevitably leads to Freddie Mercury.
I still vividly remember that evening in late 1999 — yeah, I was already old enough to vote then — when “Muscle museum” came up on the radio for the first time. I was taken from the opening riff. Their first two albums saw a remarkable artistic progression, with Origin of symmetry still to this day being their strongest and most consistent album, in my very humble opinion — even though the likes of “Bliss” couldn’t quite compete with the electric intensity of “Muscle museum”.
Then came a series of albums that saw Muse gradually become a household arena-sized rock band, with lead singer and main songwriter Matthew Bellamy showcasing a rather remarkable onstage presence, effortlessly switching from piano to guitar — and back — while singing highly powerful and distinctive vocals. Not Mercury territory in terms of pure theatrics, but then again the Queen frontman rarely played guitars (to each their own…).
This series of releases, although it sometimes resulted in little gems like “United states of Eurasia” (featured on The Resistance in 2009), overwhelmingly disappointed the hardcore fans (like yours truly) who thought they had found in Bellamy a truly groundbreaking creative force that would be able to push things further in the grandiose, operatic rock arena that the likes of Queen, Pink Floyd and Radiohead (for a time) had championed. More to the point, the prospect of Muse eventually releasing a proper rock opera seemed high in the early 2000’s, then slowly grew more distant as every new album instead chose to focus on more instantaneously catchy, electro-infused tunes. Not a bad commercial decision, but a slight creative let-down coming from a band that had shown so much potential — so early!
Unsurprisingly, the new album follows in the same arena-electro-rock vein. It is a worthy effort, like all the others — no Muse album is ever bad, just slightly disappointing compared to what could have been — and we’ve known that for a while, since 5 of the 11 tracks on the release have already been out as singles since last year. No alarms and no surprises there: Muse is clearly following in its own footsteps.
The new single, “Algorithm”, released today to celebrate the album coming out, is one of the more catchy tracks on the album (previous singles included) with a strong, highly operatic opening crescendo, touches of grand piano, the inevitable sly guitar riff and full range vocals… the “Muse mix”, if you will, served by an uncharacteristically strong beat that further bridges the gap between classic rock and electronic music. The way Radiohead has been doing for years in their own, decisively experimental way, here displayed in a more straightforward and anthemic form.
In other words, Muse now stands as the more accessible iteration of contemporary British electro-rock. Not a bad position to be in, and clearly one that we expected from Bellamy’s crew. (Electro-)rock on!
Want to know more? Here you go!