30 Seconds To Mars have returned with This Is War, an album they spent two years crafting amidst a lion’s share of personal and professional turmoil, which included getting sued by their label Virgin Records – for $30 million. A number like that is bound to make any band take stock of what the hell they’re all about, hunker down, band together and make the definitive album of their careers. Or so you’d think.
Jared Leto’s really putting his heart on the line on This Is War, but to anyone but teenage girls and Muse fans still spinning in the ether of their most recent orchestral kaleidoscope, this is all going to seem a bit forced. It sounds precisely like what it is: an album with two years’ worth of tinkering and obsessively second-guessing, reaching for the highest heights and most epic peaks imaginable. It’s massive, it’s grand, it’s a sweeping, slick and pretty production, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good.
You can’t blame a band for trying to reach into the future, for pushing their sound to a place that they think music – or at least their music – should go. But the tech-blippery and space-age overtones have precisely the same impact that Muse’s similar attempts have had; they’re cheesy and make the songs much less believable than if they were to stand on their own without some frenzied ultracolor struggle for salvation, love, purity or whatever the fuck Jordan Catalano is screaming about now.
After a slow-build opening with epic aspirations, whispery melodrama takes over on Escape and the idea that This Is Really Going Somewhere careens into a wall of empty revolution that gives way to, Night Of The Hunter, a promising new-age rock anthem with eager desperation. It sets the tone that remains for much of the album, one of a post-emo pseudoauthentic yearning and call to arms for… why for love, of course.
During the recording of the disc, Leto and the band invited fans, members of what the frontman calls “The Summit,” to contribute gang vocals which appear throughout the entire record. They’re found most heavily in Vox Populi, which opens like a futuristic blip-strobe and features massive stomp-clap chants that seem truly inspiring without Leto’s verses. In 100 Suns, the bleeding romance of hushed lines like “I believe in nothing / but the beating of our hearts” is bound to leave mascara streaks on teenage cheeks, and exits to the sound of screamy cheers from The Summit.
Hurricane is likely the best track on the record, like the soundtrack to a sorrowful, soul-searching sports car night drive in Miami. It’s a slick dose of future-electro rock, like the rest of the album, and Kanye’s appearance is a clever one (because, see, both entities appear to have hit an overwrought emotional stage in their careers). But any case of impression ends with a falcon call at the onset of Kings And Queens, which lulls you with sparse piano-in-the-crickets effects before blasting you with four hundred pounds per square inch of molten, stinking cheese. “Into the night / desperate and broken / the sound of a fight / father has spoken,” Leto whispers with earnest, before letting loose with the screaming again.
To his credit, Jared Leto can scream his ass off. The melodrama and showmanship makes him utterly impossible to take seriously, but the guy can wail as if his 16 year-old heart is breaking open, the first time it’s ever happened to anybody apparently. You can feel how badly he wants his colors to shine more brightly than anybody else’s, how much he wants his vision of Love Rebellion to be the ultimate perception, the new game plan.
The production is heavy-handed and fantastic, and the album certainly does feel as if the band has put their heart and soul into it. But that doesn’t mean the mix of ingredients is exactly thrilling.
Unfortunately, ringleader Leto doesn’t look like he’s ever going to get over his little messiah complex. His teenage poetry is riddled with an angst he should’ve outgrown over a decade ago, and all the singing lessons and expensive toys in the world aren’t going to change that.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.