Review Summary: Jared Leto tries to be someone else, but nothing seems to change...
What makes 30 Seconds To Mars so remarkable as a band is their seeming dedication to be consistently worse with each release. Since their debut album in 2002, the band's journey has taken them from fantastic, to great, to average, and finally to bad, which is the point at which we arrive with Love Lust Faith + Dreams
. Considering the band's steady decline in quality since their inception, the trio's fourth studio effort wasn't exactly highly anticipated by the music community (outside of their dedicated fanbase that is), and this is hardly a problem that was alleviated by the band's decision to release the two most cringe-worthy songs from the album as singles. However, in total, Love Lust Faith + Dreams
is less completely awful and more simply boring.
The problem with the band's current music is their "willingness" (read arrogant determination) to experiment where no experimentation is necessary. Leto and co.'s first stellar album relied on a perfectly sound space-rock theme which produced some killer tunes and could have easily carried them through a satisfying career. However, their decision to switch to synthesisers and screaming was what set them on the downhill slide that they've been enjoying ever since. I suppose you can at least respect the band for trying out different ideas, and for the most part said ideas aren't bad in the first place, just executed horribly. Take, for example, the gang-vocals performed by fans of the band that appeared on This is War
. Getting the fans involved in the music and making the process more interactive is a great idea; however, loading up every single song, even acoustics (100 Suns) with enough gang shouting for a Wonder Years song is not. Love Lust Faith + Dreams
suffers from much the same problem concerning everyone's favourite instrument in rock, electronics. As if the huge doses of pretentious concepts and Leto's awful lyrics aren't enough, more than half of LLF+D
features these new, crazy ideas from the band and they rarely ever work. Leto's voice is hardly what it once was (see “End of All Days” for his rather cringe-worthy attempt at soulful vocals, or “Depuis Le Début” for some “rawness” in what sounds like a demo vocal take) and the band aren't exactly the most technically proficient musicians on the block. But what truly pushes this album below the “middle-of-the-road” marker is the near all-encompassing pervasion of songs that are just plain boring
To start off with the truly horrendous, the album's two singles “Conquistador” and “Up in the Air” are the worst gift that 30STM has presented us thus far. “Conquistador” sounds like a watered-down version of This is War
's title track, which was hardly a stunner in the first place, while “Up in the Air” features what sounds like an unused gang-vocal take from This is War
over badly-realised synth parts. Thankfully, these two songs and “The Race” - which essentially completes the trio of terrible tracks on here, and will probably enjoy a single release in the not-too-distant future due to its upbeat and “inspiring” nature – are the worst that we are offered on LLF+D
. The majority of the other tracks slip in one ear and out the other without making much of an impression. Some are slightly better or worse; see the over-long but still enjoyable “City of Angels” or the reasonably well-realised indie jaunt of “Bright Lights” for the better, alongside the failed ballad “End of All Days” or the yawn-worthy “Northern Lights” for the worse. But for the most part, the album firmly plants itself in mediocrity, and rarely compromises to be either better or worse. But whereas the aforementioned Unholy Trio are a definitive turn for the worse, there are undeniable glimpses of hopeful moments as well.
Although the electronic elements on Love Lust Faith + Dreams
are for the most part ill-advised and unnecessary, there is one exception where they are used to a good effect. This song, “Pyres of Varanasi”, is also the album's highlight. A mostly instrumental piece (and let's be honest, a break from Leto's lyrics is welcome) with the exception of some vaguely tribal-sounding guest vocals, the song relies on a mixture of electronics and orchestral parts to complete its 3-minute runtime, and it remains enjoyable throughout. The electronics aren't overused or annoying but instead well-executed to add atmosphere and flow to the song, and it's definitely for the better. Sadly, the other “best parts” of LLF+D
amount to a respectable two minutes each, and serve as both intro and interlude to the album. “Birth” is a surprisingly effective opener, with its dramatised marching-band aesthetic that manages not to wear thin alongside Leto's best vocal performance on the album. “Convergence”, meanwhile, is a rather happy-sounding and simplistic two-minute break from the rest of the album. Although under normal circumstances, these three standout tracks would probably be considered filler, they become the highlight of an album like Love Lust Faith + Dreams
In conclusion, this isn't perhaps the most cringe-inducing album ever made, and it has its surprising moments of clarity and vision. However, 30STM's insistence on quirky and pointless experimentation (a good example is the female voice that recurs throughout the album, saying “love”, “lust”, “faith” and, you guessed it, “dreams”) as well as mediocre songwriting and extreme pretentiousness keep them from realising their potential and living up to past material. And so, the band's downhill slope continues, with less and less hope for a return to form from the band in the future. But look on the bright side; we'll always have Leto's 8-and-a-half minute music videos to look forward to, right?