Review Summary: Matthew 5: Now when Jared saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to sell them America.
Once upon a time, Thirty Seconds to Mars showed real potential. No, really, they did. Even by taking Jared Leto’s well-established acting profile away from the scenario and looking at the band off of their own merits, there was a scintillating future lined up for them. All they had to do was stick to their guns. An ebullition of excitement, on the cusp of greatness, and then the last ten years happened… The optimist in me tried to reject what had happened here, it’s through this which helped me find one redeeming quality from it all; an interesting little tale which is far more interesting than anything they’ve put out in the last few years.
You see, back in 2002 Jared and Shannon set out on this successful journey as a dingy, experimental alt-rock outfit. That’s right, folks. The 2002 self-titled debut was a bulkhead of Nirvana-inspired melodies and simply constructed songs thrown into the confinements of a raw energy, galvanised with a brace of effects to deliver on the band’s concept: Space. You can listen to Jared explain what the name represents these days, but it’s a load of old pigswill. In the adolescent days of 30STM their shtick was a conceptual focus on space & time; from the name, right down to the very look of the band. Adult themes of sex, human consciousness, religious symbolism, cults and new civilisations in the galactic unknown were the order of the day, and Leto offered it up using a trove of accessible songwriting tools to attain it. The results weren’t going to bring the hysterical masses to the door, but it was an album that brought exciting dimensions to an otherwise tired genre.
It’s from here where things get brought up a notch. Their second and third attempts were far less despondent and more welcoming: a glossy production, leaner songwriting and a surprise departure from the unique themes originally being ran with. Even so, despite A Beautiful Lie
’s malnourishment in alluring, ambiguous qualities it made up for it with next-level writing; tracks that would change their career forever. An amalgam of alt-rock and (Leto’s truelove) cinema, the LP’s aesthetic was radio-rock with a grandiose swagger to it, continuing to showcase talent within the bandcamp in a different way. 2009’s This is War
was a slightly different story though and was the first misstep in the band’s evolution. It took me a long time to appreciate this record for what it was, due in part to an over-saturation of fan-chanting which damaged potentially solid tracks and a heavier emphasis on pompous ideas. Still, in its defiance of ruining what was going so well previous, there was a lot of really amazing pieces to unearth. It’s reliance on the pop mindset was absolute, but it continued to show a complex to the band.
So, after surviving a hellish lawsuit with EMI – which served as creative fuel and theme for This is War
– which endured for a life-reducing year, they not only came out victorious from the battle but achieved dominating success with their latest offering, resulting in a band on top of the world. Where do you go from here？ You make another album, and, oh boy, did it go wrong. Imagine a record with all the worst aspects from previous efforts rolled up into one cynically hollow construct and you’ll get an idea of what Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams
is all about. More pretentious, watered down and vapid, it offered a couple of decent ideas but on the whole was a near write-off. It was a complete shutdown on their roots; a disregard of what their original intentions were. This wasn’t an album to push the band or the art form, it was an exercise in narcissistic futility and how much bigger they could get.
After the trite offerings of 2013, if you were praying for something with a little more weight this time you’re going to be in for a disappointment. Unsurprisingly, America
feels more tired and weak than its predecessor. Throughout the band’s career religious symbolism has been a focal point; innocently placed with actual context on their debut album before morphing into its own entity after every album cycle. It’s appearance here is nauseatingly present, just from looking at their most recent insignia of a cross and the band’s iconic triangle melded together, it looks as though they’re trying to start their own Scientology experiment with fans. The constant reminder given to kids that they’re apart of a “cult” makes for a worrying prospect as a long haired, beard-sporting Leto stands above his cultists with the mannerisms of being a sort of reincarnation of Christ. The band name no longer represents space, time and exploration – that sh*t is too boring to sell to kids these days. No, 30STM is a brand name used to shift units and offer deep, meaningful slogans like: “Yes, this is a cult”
, which you can buy for $60 on a sweater. But I digress, this is a topic of discussion reserved for another day.
Where was I？ – The songs, that’s right. The regression of everyone’s talent is in startlingly full effect here. Leto’s continuing trend of vocal work at a lazy minimum is ever present, as he bombards songs with his irritating by-the-numbers “oh-wa-oh” chants and lifeless raspy whispers than giving us a solid and able melody, – something he is more than capable of doing – which is then perfectly topped off with the perpetual support of his backing chanters. “Live Like A Dream” “Walk on Water”, “Great Wide Open” and “Dangerous Night” all contain the insipid vocal traits I’ve come to loath in recent years, as well as an abundance of skeletal instrumentation and awkward transitions. Shannon’s drums continue to slope off into the backburner while simple and weak electronic-percussive booms sit at the front of house. Tomo’s presence as a guitar player is now virtually non-existent, he is now allotted the position of key-master, delivering painfully banal compositions on a synth to accommodate Jared’s dreary one-dimensional contributions; the kind of writing you know will get everyone worked up when they see the band live: a silly repetitive chant or hook is the primary focus these days and oh, do they use it to the fullest here. The eye-rolling and pompous French spoken word intro to “Dawn Will Rise”, with its laughably out of place auto-tune and desperate search for atmosphere and mood can’t mask this musically anaemic waste of time; “Hail to the Victor” with its club-building crescendo quickly sets off alarms as you’re hit with a textbook wall of sub-bass and high frequency electronics; and “Live Like A Dream” for its completely trite and exhausted sound at this point.
It leaves me distraught thinking about the direction they’ve gone in. This is War
wasn’t a perfect album by any means, but it had some genuinely interesting ideas nestled underneath it all. It balanced the pop formula with the rock, electronic and experimental parts perfectly, and even with a few hitches still came out with solid songs. I mean, if I’m extending my hand in search of any positives here, in spite of Halsey’s horrendous contributions of modern pop tropes and nasally croons that ruin the bulk of “Love Is Madness”, the electronic build-up in the mid-section of the track is a melancholic highlight; while “Remedy” easily shows as the best track here: a simple and refreshing acoustic piece that has a nice smooth melody and rhythmic bounce. However, the quality on here is fundamentally insulting, and even with the odd moment being pulled from the odd song this is an alarming misfire for the band. Shannon is a beast on the kit; Jared has a brilliant voice; and Tomo has shown his worth as a solid and able guitar player, but none of that is present here. It’s all been flushed down the toilet for the shallow pseudo cinematic's pertained on 2013’s weak attempt, with an even higher reliance on the cynical radio formula to expand on their cultist numbers. I think the biggest sore for Thirty Seconds to Mars comes from the feeling they haven’t made an album with real or genuine emotion since This is War
. The band just seems to be hellbent on composing disposable garbage, implementing cheap methods of writing to their songs in the hope it’ll draw in more fans and indeed, more money.
The obvious part at this point is I don’t recommend this album, but the sad truth is, it probably won’t stop “The Cult”
from getting any bigger. With so little effort being made on their end, the decent thing to do would be to let this thing go unsupported and have them realise they need to come back next time with hunger in their bellies and more admirable intentions on why they’re still doing this. One of latter day 30STM’s biggest strengths was being able to create a really moody and enticing slow track; they knew how to draw you in with their dejected electronics and thick atmosphere. Here, even a track like “One Track Mind” can only do the job half as well; ticking every contemporary pop and pop-rap cliché in the book on top of what could have been a pretty interesting piece. Instead the song is drowning in auto-tune and cheap metronome high-hat taps, with a pretty cringe guest spot from A$AP Rocky to add insult to injury. The best description I can give on what this sounds like is imagine Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams
, half the interesting ideas from that and besiege any potential enjoyment with derivative electronic preset effects and sounds, with an immense reliance on auto-tune – something that really damages a lot of the work here, as it fuses with Jared’s voice throughout the duration with little reason on why it’s there other than to appeal to current trends. I see possibility in a song like “Rescue Me” with its rubbery bassline, simple chord sequence and vocals that show as one of the lesser lazy performances here, but these moments are a needle in a haystack and feel underdeveloped at best anyways; and even with a more positive note being made for the track, it’s still weighed down by problems the album is inherently plagued with. I can’t put enough emphasis on just how forced and obvious the marketability is for this; like they entered a load of formulas into a computer to see what would result in optimum listens and out came a song like “Walk on Water”. I once saw a bright future for the Leto brothers and Tomo, now all I see is badly lit fascist rallies, brainwashed teenagers and an increasingly delusional frontman.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A