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Muse | Simulation Theory

The British stadium-rockers rein it in on their eighth album — relatively speaking.

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Can not having a concept be a concept? It can if you’re Muse. Or at least you can pretend it is. After painstakingly crafting a trio of grandly ambitious albums over the past 10 years, the British art-rock trio fronted by singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy supposedly wanted to tone things down for their eighth studio release. So what exactly does ‘tone things down’ mean to one of the most challenging bands on the planet? Well, it means that instead of writing and recording an entire album about revolution, thermodynamics or the military, they apparently concentrated on recording one song at a time, taking their lyrical influences from the world around them. And instead of those songs being lengthy, multipart epics, they’re short, sweet and self-contained singles for the most part. And instead of trying to imagine a brave new prog future, they’re drawing on ’80s sounds and styles like synth-pop, new wave and electro-funk — with all the requisite Close Encounters keyboards, synth basses and pad-like drums to match. Of course, it isn’t all big beats and bigger hooks; this is still Muse we’re talking about. So even when the stadium rockers are reining it in, the arrangements, production and instrumentation are still distinctively different and impeccably arranged. Even though they swear they didn’t plan it ahead of time, the album is still centred around common SF themes of technology, alienation, alternate reality and humanity (and features a throwback movie-poster cover drawn by the guy who did the art for Stranger Things). And of course, even though the disc clocks in at a relatively brief 42 minutes — the shortest album of their career — the super deluxe edition comes with an entire second album of alternate-reality (get it?) versions and remixes (including one song performed with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band). Because hard as this might be to believe, minimalism is still not a concept with which Muse are even remotely acquainted. Or ever likely to be. Of course, that’s just a theory.