Review Summary: Pleasing to see a band admit the weak points from their debut & attempt to resolve them. A more controlled effort with greater variety, this album contains some strong songs that prove the band is on the right track.
30 Seconds To Mars’ debut self-titled album clearly showed potential. It had some neat ideas, good experimentation and was something just that bit different. It also had a couple of really good tracks, but it was difficult to mark highly due to it being over-produced, overlong and containing a lot of repetition both musically & lyrically. In delivering a follow-up, it seems an extremely simplistic formula to just rectify the weaknesses of a first album, but in this case it was the obvious thing to do. Thankfully, that is exactly what the band has done here and ‘A Beautiful Lie’ is all the better for it.
Gone are the multiple songs lasting over 5 minutes, as excluding a short hidden track tacked on to the end of another song, the longest tracks here is 4:29. Also gone is the over-reliance on synthesizers. While they still exist on this effort and are far from being pushed to the background, they do not overwhelm any songs like they arguably did on the debut. And thankfully there is hardly a mention of planets and the universe, with the only repetitive lyrical content this time around seemingly concerning the word “lie” which pops up frequently.
Like the debut release, this album is front-loaded to some extent, with 3 of the first 4 singles kicking things off. ‘Attack’ is an excellent choice of opener (if not 1st single), as it contains a good mix of everything in its 3 minute running time which sums things up promptly. It continues to prove that the band know how to set up a chorus with varying verses and then ram it home successfully… A strength shown in dribs and drabs on their debut.
Musically, there is still a sense of over-production on most tracks which doesn’t quite allow the intricacies of the guitar-work to reach its potential. But what the band does better here is subtly vary the pace of most tracks. While it is rather obvious that it is still a variation on the same theme, it works satisfactorily. In fact, the title track almost makes the subtle changes of pace within the one song as it ends up being mid-tempo despite showing signs of being both a ballad and an up-tempo rocker at stages.
Track 3 ‘The Kill’ is the clear highlight on the album and deservedly gave the group an extended fanbase. The charisma of lead vocalist (and part-time actor) Jared Leto really shines through on this track and there is a sense of intensity and emotion about his vocals that fits well in combination with the atmospheric music. ‘The Fantasy’ is also a recommended track, even if it just fails to live up to its blueprint from the first album… Using similar ideas concerning guitar-work from ‘Oblivion’ off their debut, this musically builds up to the chorus effectively.
30 Seconds To Mars’ ability to pull off ballads hasn’t exactly been perfected on this release, but I believe it to be improved with both ‘Was it a Dream?’ and ‘The Story’ providing solid variety. It helps the middle to latter stages of the album that does tend to stray into a repetitive territory once more, despite one of the stronger tracks of the album, 3rd single ‘From Yesterday’ being involved in that stretch.
When the ok and nothing more ‘R-Evolve’ floats on by at track 9, there is an unfortunate case of deja-vu kicking in, but the band pleasantly surprise with a truckload of variety on the final 3 tracks. It’s almost a shame that only 1 of these work so well, as the acoustic strings-assisted ‘A Modern Myth’ is fairly unmemorable and the Bjork cover ‘Hunter’ really should have been something the band played around with in their own time and at best used as a B side. However, ‘Battle of One’ is a genuine revelation as it is a raw rocker with some metal traits that is actually pulled off well and proves that the band should occasionally scale the production of their songs back.
In conclusion, it is almost pleasing to see 30 Seconds To Mars admit the weak points from their debut album and attempt to resolve them for this follow-up. It is a sign of a band that clearly are realistic with their ambitions, even if sometimes it appears to be exactly the opposite within their music. ‘A Beautiful Lie’ is a more controlled effort than their debut and also contains stronger songs which are more likely to appeal to a wider audience. More importantly, it works well as an album due to greater variety. There are clearly still improvements to be worked on, but I am glad to say that 30 Seconds To Mars are on the right track.
Recommended Tracks: The Kill, From Yesterday, Attack & The Fantasy.