It’s nice when your favourite people release albums that don’t suck.
Muse – Simulation Theory
Muuuuuuuuuuuuse! I always felt that my love for Muse is basically my love for Queen gone full circle. I’ve been a huge fan for a long time, but apart from a couple of vintage Muse tracks I wasn’t into their previous album, Drones. In fact it felt so stale, sludgy and uninspired I began to wonder if the band was veering dangerously close to their creative expiry date. So it’s rather a relief to have my faith restored with this new album, which is easily their strongest release since The Resistance. Fun Muse is back!
As the colourful Stranger Things-inspired cover suggests, it incorporates 80s synths and sound effects, and is probably their poppiest release to date. Which is not a bad thing since, despite their proggy tendencies, Muse always had uncanny pop instincts and, on a good day, could craft a tune as catchy as anything on the radio. The Dark Side (with shades of Daft Punk) is one of their most gorgeous songs, bringing back the sense of romanticism I felt was sorely lacking on Drones. Thankfully, Muse also haven’t abandoned their willingness to experiment; Break It To Me is a truly bonkers standout best described as, “if Tom Morello married Justin Timberlake in a Bollywood/Middle Eastern wedding”.
The album dips somewhat in the second half with tracks that are merely good rather than excellent; the chorus for Get Up And Fight sounds like every generic emo song from the earlier decade and should be thrown on a dumpster fire. However the album ends strongly with dark and moody electronica of The Void, and the inclusion of alternate mixes for some of the tracks is a nice bonus, especially the gospel version of Dig Down. As a pedantic Harry Potter fan, I feel an obligation to point out that the lyric “you ate my soul just like a Death Eater” in Propaganda should be really referencing the Dementors, not Death Eaters. Do your research, Matt Bellamy!
The Breeders – All Nerve
Kim Deal’s other band hasn’t exactly been prolific, releasing five albums in just under 30 years, so every new record feels like an unexpected gift. For this one, the iconic line-up of Last Splash returns to deliver an album that maybe lacks the instantly appealing singles like Cannonball, but is still delightfully off-kilter and rewarding. Kim Deal’s vocals are as warm and charming as ever, and while I’m normally not a fan of vague and elusive style of lyrics, All Nerve has a few memorable ones. Wait In The Car displays a quirky sense of humour: I always struggle with the right word/Meow Meow Meow Meow Meow; the spectral and eerie Walking With A Killer is a murder ballad from the point of view of the victim; Blues at the Acropolis laments the sight of junkies and drunks draped over the age-old monuments.
Florence + The Machine – High As Hope
Florence Welch’s fourth album continues along the more stripped-down path that the last album, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, only hinted on. She can’t bypass the showy melodrama completely and there are still stomping euphoric choruses and war-cry vocals springing up, however, a genuine attempt to dial things down is definitely there. Florence’s supernatural vocals are no less compelling for being restrained and unbacked by a musical storm, and the lyrics are more introspective and contemplative, which probably has a lot to do with the singer coming into her 30s. South London Forever in particular has vivid and poignant lyrics looking back on a debauched night from early youth. I’ll always have fondness for Florence’s earlier rococo approach and her knack for immersing the listener into a fantastical world, but I also enjoy her skill for smaller detail. And yay, I’m not missing out on the tour this time around.