Review Summary: Jared Leto's retaliation for being sued by his label.
Fresh out of battle after being sued for breach-of-contract by Virgin Records in 2008, brothers Shannon and Jared Leto along with the other two members of 30 Seconds To Mars returned to the forefront of mainstream, alt-rock. This Is War, a dramatic and grandiose, self-proclaimed concept album is the band's third release of the five they were contracted to record within the last decade through Virgin, hence the lawsuit. This album sounds like Jared's way of sticking it to the label.
30 Seconds to Mars started out somewhere in left field, coupling modern rock sensibilities with prog rock overtones. It was an interesting mix that sounded familiar, but somehow from the future. "A Beautiful Lie" saw the band take a more pared approach to their songs and I believe it worked. It certainly garnered them more success than their first album, which leads us to "This Is War" and what I believe is a clearly calculated step full into the mainstream. How else can you account for the collaboration with Kanye West? While I'm certainly not against that, the inclusion of Auto-Tune in addition to Kanye's presence stinks of a bigger budget and more time spent on production than refining songwriting. It's as if they asked themselves how many tracks they could fit the child choir into just because they had the money to do it. Some bands are able to elevate their music by adding layers, "This is War", however, flattens the sound of the band. It's more soaring, but less impacting as everything is made to sound big, fresh, new. Unfortunately, it sounds bland and unoriginal with each song barely differentiating from each other and being continually bloated.
The lyrics sound completely amateur. It seems as if Jared was just trying to rhyme the best as possible and the finished product was not nearly as meaningful and metaphorical as his other lyrics. His actual vocals and tone sound somewhat decent until he goes into overly ambitious high notes like american idol's Adam Lambert. It just sounds like a woman screaming. In the songs you will not hear much guitar. The dominant instrument is what sounds like keyboard effects (like the toy Casio keyboards) and are almost constant. There's also laser robotic sounds, Bon Jovi (mid 80's) type sound effects, and a stomp and clap track that seems to try and harness the spirit of "We Will Rock you". And then there is the spontaneous boy choir that comes up at the most inopportune moments to make a big question mark pop over your head. Is this a live album or did someone think I wanted to hear a group of kids singing in a choir? Someone described this as incorporating it's "army" into the music, well it didn't work. Nor does that reference really make any sense because they used children on the tracks.
This album isn't completely terrible, it's just boring and pretentious and there isn't really anything that is interesting about this band. 30 Seconds to Mars used to be a band that I could somewhat enjoy from slightly afar because they were attempting to create an otherworldly facade, a persona, a story about themselves. This I found intellectually interesting even if they never actually reached the echelon of being labeled as something special and not to be missed. There was promise in their premise. Now, they're like so many others, thinking that more equals better. It's a shame, the band's premise is interesting, but it's execution continues to be slightly flawed and calculated, much like many of Leto's films. "This is War" shows that the band really is an act instead of emoting real expression through their chosen medium.