There’s a pitfall associated with lots of hype and big buildups: if you hype something up, you had better deliver, or you won’t be taken seriously next time. 30 Seconds To Mars, the brainchild of actor Jared Leto, has never shied away from the grandiose or from claims of its own epic-ness, billing itself as more movement than band, and drawing a fiercely loyal fan base around its own messiah complex. Yet while their last album This Is War definitely had moments of substance, some folks could not help but come away feeling that somehow it was a bit too self-important for its own good.
30STM’s latest effort LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS unfortunately carries this trend even further. Overly hyped with words like “rebirth” and “new era”, a promotional stunt involving literally sending their single “Up In the Air” into space (piggy-backing it on a scheduled run to the International Space Station), and even an unfortunately named release party in Los Angeles dubbed “Church of Mars,” this album has been built up so big that even if it were good, it would have a hard time measuring up to its own self-proclaimed sense of significance.
And for all that—it really isn’t. Good, that is.
Now, to be fair, changing up the band’s sound really wasn’t a bad idea. Four years ago, 30 Seconds To Mars was definitely riding on the crest of an emo wave that has since pretty much subsided, so something needed to be done to maintain a sense of relevance. What Leto and company apparently did was tone down some of the screaming vocals and add more synth, creating a more current electro sound. But what they didn’t tone down was the self-importance. While the opening intro/song “Birth” and the followup “Conquistador” definitely promise more epic-ness to come, after that, things pretty much devolve into a morass of forgettable tunes that have plenty of opportunities for crowd-chanting (and occasionally insightful lyricism) but very little else in the way of musical substance. The resulting overall vibe unfortunately sounds not so much like a phoenix rising from the ashes as it does a fairly bad Muse knockoff.
One of the few admirable things about 30STM, as I mentioned before, is their ability to gather a fiercely loyal fan base. Thus, I imagine there will be many fans who believe 30 Seconds to Mars (and Leto, in particular) can do no wrong, who greatly dislike my calling the band out like this. My response would be simply this: there is nothing wrong with starting a movement, but if one is not careful, a movement can quickly devolve into a subculture that is relevant only unto itself—at which point it takes on more characteristics of a cult than a movement. (And terms like “Church of Mars” don’t help the cause much.) The fact is that LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS will no doubt satisfy the most loyal of 30STM fans, but those who have not been previously enamored will quickly see that the album offers very little to substantiate the hype that has surrounded it.
And that’s not epic. That’s just sad.