Thirty Seconds To Mars - America (Review)


Okay, let’s start with the bad news: the inevitable happened and with Thirty Seconds To Mars, another great rock band lost their mojo. The good news: even without they don’t sound half bad.

Whether emo or not, the bands that formed the alternative rock scene of the 2000s seemingly made a pact that performing anything remotely close to their initial style would result in their immediate death. Other wise I can’t explain that there seems to be not a single band left that stayed loyal to the roots that made them special. Although probably most polarizing, Fall Out Boy’s departure on M A N I A wasn’t even AS dramatic, the tone was still rebellious and the punk attitude didn’t vanish, but even I couldn’t deny they doubled the amount of non-rock elements. That can’t be said about Panic! at the Disco’s newest singles. If the entire album keeps this electro swing vibe, I will just regard them as disbanded after 2016. Finnish rockers Sunrise Avenue went for radio friendly pop - which is almost what they wear before, just that it used to be radio friendly pop rock. After they came back from the USA, Germany’s biggest and only “relevant” emo band (the term relevant isn’t popularly used over here) Tokio Hotel switched to electro-pop. It was great electro-pop, to be honest, but not what we liked them for in the first place. The same as for the four guys from Magdeburg can be said about Thirty Seconds to Mars. In fact, often America feels like the successor of Dream Machine rather than the newest record of the group that brought us jams like Attack.

Where I live, Thirty Seconds to Mars had their mainstream breakthrough in 2005 with A Beautiful Lie. Emo was never the big thing over here that it was in the US, except for Tokio Hotel and some of their short lived copycats, but Thirty Seconds managed to enter the top ten ever since their second album, while they were only somewhere in the top 50 in other countries. Admiration for Jared Leto’s ability to have two equally successful and completely individual artistic careers was felt. With their self titled album, A Beautiful Lie and This is War, the band made a near perfect trilogy of alternative rock albums. The first two managed to magnificently blend the catchy melodies of Fall Out Boy with the rough emotional intensity of Linkin Park, the third one had higher ambitions, more complex and challenging structures and was less radio friendly. Then followed Love Lust Faith + Dreams and something was different. It did have the high ambition of its predecessor, but it was also softer, much more electronic and did not nearly feel as revolting, rough and honest as before. Now came America, topped the charts (and in the meantime, they are also really big abroad) and left us with mixed impressions. We all agree: this isn’t the same band from 16 years ago anymore. What we disagree in, however, is whether it’s good or not. And I must say it kinda is.

While they experimented with a smoother electronica style on their previous effort, they completely threw their original style out of the window with this record. And yes, they manage to execute this very professionally. Hail to the Victor blends EDM trap with a concerned social statement fluently, and Great Wide Open and Live Like a Dream have something equally dreamy and proud, anthemic. Then we have tracks like One Track Mind and Love is Madness that unfold a slow paced, trap inspired ballad sound. The cinematic Rider is without a doubt the record's highlight. It’s soundtrack-like strings offer a touch of drama and epicness that stands out of the rather calm, static and electronic rest.

They definitely know what they are doing, and how to successfully write, produce and perform music like this. No matter how hard that may sound under these circumstances, that’s what Linkin Park couldn’t do on their final album. Their melancholic pop music never had the spirit of melancholic pop. It was the work of a band that tried as hard as they could to sound like melancholic pop, but that didn’t quite get it and just imitated its aesthetics. Maybe they actually loved making this music, but it just couldn’t compete with other radio artists who performed the same style. Thirty Seconds to Mars’ America however could as well be the work of a band that never did anything else but creating this very style of music. The questions is if that’s what we truly want from then.

Like with the Tokio Hotel albums of the 2010s, the quality of the music isn’t the problem. But I would have liked them more if they were performed by a side project rather than this particular band. You can rank electro pop in the context of electro pop, and compared to other albums of the genre, it is good. But now, it is the most current step of the evolution of a music group. During the entire record, you always have in mind what the three members are capable. Jared Leto is one of the most expressive and authentic alternative rock vocalists, and most powerful screamers, next to Chester Bennington, because unlike so many they never come off as gimmicky or even growling, they are interpolated into the singing, as some sort of climax when the emotions get so hard to handle that he can’t hold them in anymore. That he is an acknowledged actor who won important awards sparks through in his singing. Burying him in gallons of Autotune while he apathetically hums the words doesn’t do him justice, although it absolutely does fit into the style of music as an aesthetic choice. Same goes for the beat work: this is some great and atmospheric production that would complement artists like Sia, but you always have in mind the powerful, melodic pop punk guitars and the wild drumming the group used to deliver. Albums like these leave me behind with a divided opinion: compared to other musicians in the same genre, America is by far greater than compared to the group’s own discography, in which it is admittedly the weakest work. Of course, the ambitions are not only bigger but also better developed than on most other trap inspired radio pop, but they are universes away from This is War. In conclusion, it is a disappointment, yes, but at least the outcome is solid, although not great.

Oh yeah, I need to add something to my second paragraph: the Black Veil Brides remained true to their rock roots - so far. Maybe all hope isn’t lost. Then again, they started off quite some time later.