Does Muse's "Algorithm" steal from "The Last Ninja - Wilderness"?
Retro is hip. Calvin Harris and many other contemporary musicians openly state the influence the nowadays called "retro-scene" had and has on their work. Do Muse owe more than just a bit to "The Last Ninja"?
"The Last Ninja" is frequently listed among the best games ever for the Commodore 64 and the Amiga (as "Ninja Remix"), and on either platform it's blessed with an outstanding soundtrack. Among all of "Last Ninja"'s music tracks, composed by Ben Daglish and Anthony Lees, the best known is probably "Wilderness", of which many remakes can be found on the net, including live band renditions.
In 2018, Muse released their album "Simulation Theory", and on first sight you get the (semi-)retro idea they obviously had. The cover instantly reminds you of "Blade Runner" , "Strange Days", "Tron", and the likes, the whole bunch of 70s to 90s science fiction cinema classics. Equally does the music take you back a couple of decades. The opening track's drums almost speak out "eight-zero-eight", and it's classic analogue synth sounds all over the place.
So let's start at what could be the beginning:
Commodore 64, "The Last Ninja" - "Wilderness" by Ben Daglish & Anthony Lees, 1987
A masterpiece of 3-channel SID composition. The only thing it lacks is a distinctive drum sound, but once you get it, it still has a strong underlying groove, and on top of that some beautifully crafted melodies, mostly in the pentatonic scale, along with lots of arpeggiated chords.
Three years later, Jochen Hippel creates a remix of the same composition for "Ninja Remix", with added drums, emphasizing the groove (and adding an uptempo section):
Amiga, "Ninja Remix" - "Wilderness" by Jochen Hippel (based on original C64 version), 1990
Fast-forward to 2018, Muse's "Algorithm" from "Simulation Theory", listen especially to the chords after the drums have entered, and some of the melody sections:
Muse - "Algorithm", official music video, 2018
Isn't it staggering? There's even arpeggiated chords. Matt Bellamy from Muse has also openly stated his Amiga-roots, even that "...Muse wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the Amiga 500...", so it's no surprise we hear a lot of the then-common sounds and styles in Muse's music. Portions of "Algorithm" almost sound like a direct hommage to the Commodore 64 and Amiga game music composers at the time, and in this case even some of the chord progressions match.
Did Ben Daglish & Anthony Lees' "Wilderness" slip into "Algorithm"? Did Muse steal from the composers? Well, fortunately there's no copyright on chords and sounds alone. The overall composition of "Algorithm" is very different from "Wilderness", and especially the vocal sections evoke a very different mood, so there's probably no question "Algorithm" is a standalone creation. But still there is a huge "Oh yeah...!", as the similarities to 80s and 90s video game music are undeniable, and obviously intentional. Certainly not directly taken from "Wilderness", but at least on a subconscious level it is possible "The Last Ninja" has left a lasting impression in the back of the Muse's minds (or Bellamy's). And if it's not "Wilderness" specifically, then it's the blend of game music by composers like Martin Galway, Chris Huelsbeck, Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Anthony Lees, and others, and the technical equipment available at the time - including an Amiga 500 - that certainly have contributed to "Algorithm". It's as if Muse are giving a friendly nod, maybe even taking a bow, to the generation of 8-bit musicians. Retro computer music has become a part of music history. Given Muse's popularity, one could say it has left it's niche existence somewhere between children's bedrooms and demoparties, and reached the open mainstream.
Ben Daglish passed away on Oct. 1st 2018.
Anthony Lees passed away in Aug. 2016.
R. I .P.