Review Summary: Passable over-produced & overlong album has a couple of impressive tracks, but is too repetitious both musically & lyrically to do anything more than show potential.
I would love to go through this entire review without mentioning the obvious, but it’s simply too large a fact to ignore. Ladies and gentlemen, if you were not aware, 30 Seconds To Mars is fronted by a rather well-known actor; Jared Leto. If you don’t know him by name, I’m sure most would have at least seen him as he has acted in such films as Fight Club, Switchback, Panic Room & Requiem for a Dream. As soon as it becomes known that the lead singer of a band is an actor, the groans of disapproval are almost instantaneous and unanimous… Russell Crowe anyone!?!?!?
But hold the phone (Russell Crowe pun fully intended), Leto is actually a half decent singer. His range doesn’t exactly extend to all points of the compass, but he gets the best out of his talent and rarely attempts to go where his voice cannot take him. Of course, I am specifically talking about on record here as the level of production is not hidden and there is clearly some degree of technical wizardry involved.
First single and opener ‘Capricorn (A Brand New Name)’ is a good example of the points I have already raised regarding Leto. Effectively smooth vocals highlight this track which is probably the best on the album. He clearly has charisma, even through the speakers, and it’s difficult not to be initially drawn into the songs themselves. Musically, the opener also lays down what to expect, as the band’s music is clearly guitar-driven with simple chords and riffs being occasionally effective, but too cleanly produced to leave a lasting quality mark. Elsewhere, synths are clearly heard to add something different to the formula, while drums are taken up a notch to give a semi-epic feel to them.
As tracks 2 through 4 follow, you begin to see that the songs are all variations on the same theme. Second single ‘Edge of the Earth’, ‘Fallen’ and ‘Oblivion’ all employ synths to some extent, while the guitar and drum sounds are siblings to the opener. The over-production and synth use is admittedly rather gimmicky, but is impressive and effective at the end of the day. This is especially since the slight variations work more often than not in these songs; The epic drum beginning of ‘Fallen’ and especially the unplugged sounding guitar transforming into a chainsaw-like effect in the lead up to the chorus of ‘Oblivion’.
If I was to be overly harsh, the album is pretty much over and done with following the first 4 tracks. The little which is done differently in the remaining 7 tracks is simply ineffective. By the time track 5 ‘Buddha for Mary’ opens with robotic voices, it is clearly a sign of a downhill slope that disappointingly does eventuate. This near 6 minute track not only shows the band struggling with any significant change of pace, but also spotlights another of the band’s weaknesses; Their lyrics. They are corny here whilst being way too similar and repetitive elsewhere. There is a space theme to it all and if you drink a shot of your favorite spirit any time a planet, the sun or the universe is mentioned, you would have undoubtedly collapsed come the end of the album.
Not only do the lyrics become repetitive, but so does the music. In fact, it is all summed up well by the penultimate track ’93 Million Miles’. It actually has a good chorus and is a bit of a grower, but by simply rehashing most of what has come before it, it comes off as nothing better than an average album track. There is a chainsaw guitar effect similar to ‘Oblivion’, there is the epic-sounding drums of ‘Fallen’, the same old lyrics and to make matters worse, the song drags out to over 5 minutes in length.
In fact, that is another problem with the final 7 tracks on this album as over-length plagues it. ‘Echelon’ is a perfect example of a pretty good song that is worse off because it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes. Track 7 ‘Welcome to the Universe’ is almost refreshing purely for its sub 3 minute length!
Reading over the review, it comes off as overly negative. But this is one of those efforts which is definitely still passable despite the album’s clear weaknesses. Individual songs aren’t necessarily awful in any way, while a couple of them are actually very impressive. It is just that as a single body of work, there is simply too much repetition spread over the (overlong) 53 minute duration. More variety and the exclusion of a song or two would have improved the album markedly. The potential is there for 30 Seconds To Mars, but it definitely doesn’t all come together here on this self-titled debut.
Recommended Tracks: Capricorn (A Brand New Name), Oblivion & Edge of the Earth.