The evidence that the reality we think we know is, in fact, a computer simulation designed by some ultra-advanced alien race might sometimes feel overwhelming. If you’ve ever spent any serious time modifying your video game character using the most ridiculous facial and hair options available to you, you’ll inevitably end up playing as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. Only the most fiendish game designer, you would think, would come up with anything as frustrating as the Thameslink timetable or Only Connect. And surely no fully sentient being, unless they were being controlled somehow by a higher force with a new and more interesting game they want to play, would ever have a go at the Tide pod challenge.
“I confidently expect this to be Bellamy’s dissection of the idea that we’re all just lumps of code in the shape of unusually lumpy sims.
It’s the most Muse idea this side of a global AI drone conspiracy. On Mars.”
OK, so you can pretty much rubbish the whole concept with two words: bad eyesight. Like, when the aliens gave generations of Simulation: Earth avatars bad eyesight and they invented glasses, then they gave more of them bad eyesight and they got glasses too, and the next few billion or so all did the same, then by this point surely the aliens would know that humans can find a work-around for bad eyesight, so why would they keep testing it? But of course nothing as trivial as what theoretical physicists will now start calling the Bad Eyesight Paradox could stop Matt Bellamy from playing around with arguably the most Muse idea this side of a global AI drone conspiracy. On Mars.
Hence Muse yesterday announced their eighth studio album ‘Simulation Theory’. As with Muse’s recent run of albums ‘The 2nd Law’ (2012) and ‘Drones’ (2015), the title, we can logically assume, will relate to the loose theme of the record – I confidently expect this to be Bellamy’s dissection of the idea that we’re all just lumps of code in the shape of unusually lumpy sims. But after a long run of albums tackling some of mankind’s most serious concerns – oppressive governments, energy depletion, remote control warfare – they’ve finally found a mind-bending sci-fi topic to have fun with. The album comes in an uber-retro sleeve, designed by Stranger Things visual artist Kyle Lambert, that couldn’t be more Blade Runner if it came with a free attack ship on fire off the shoulder of Orion. The videos for the so-far-released tracks ‘Dig Down’, ‘Thought Contagion’ and ‘Something Human’ have included references to iconic ‘80s screen moments such as Tron, Teen Wolf, Back To The Future and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. That each song will have its own video (‘The Dark Side’’s clip of Bellamy driving a sports car through a neon cityscape could be taken from GTA Vice City 2078) suggests a narrative about digital containment and escape. The whole thing screams San Junipero to the max.
‘Something Human’ might have been the key to ‘Simulation Theory’ – trapped inside the advanced technological darknesses of the Drones tour for 15 months, Bellamy felt like he was living inside a machine and wrote of longing for more human contact – but new single ‘The Dark Side’ is its first sign of real meat. The previous singles might themselves have been seen as ironic simulations of synthetic modern pop music, laced with streaks of Ed Sheeran, Bastille and EDM, as though Muse were out to show the amateurs and shysters how future pop should be done. ‘The Dark Side’, meanwhile, is a chunkier proposition, in the vein of a synthpoppier ‘Black Holes…’, albeit awash with ‘80s gated drum fills and synth spangles. “Break me out, let me flee,” Bellamy wails like an operatic Matrix escapee, and ‘Simulation Theory’ will be as good as its word. On the Deluxe and Super Deluxe editions Muse will break out of their synthrock cages; there are acoustic versions of album tracks aplenty.
If the ‘Drones’ tour was a dark marvel, ‘Simulation Theory’ looks set to turn on the bright lights. Here’s hoping for stadiums decked out like Blade Runner 2049, flying DeLoreans, a VR spectacular made flesh. Something to put a glitch in the simulation code.