(Interscope, out Fri 6 Apr 2018)
Thirty Seconds to Mars are well established in the world of alt rock but in their first album since 2013 there is a significant shift into more varied styles. America encompasses electro riffs, soaring vocals and catchy lyrics to create an interesting and enjoyable album.
The album opens with Walk on Water, an optimistic and energetic track featuring frontman Jared Leto’s signature powerful vocals. This is a strong start and introduces the electronic influences through synth effects and a prominent drum beat. There is something almost religious to the repetition and vocalisation at the beginning that is reminiscent of Christian rock, but this makes the track catchier and adds a layer of irony to the subject matter. Clear links to Trump’s presidency and the turmoil of the eponymous country are evoked through the lyrics, describing change and fanaticism. This message is well presented but lacks any real power or potency, failing to stand out in a climate where many artists are addressing these issues.
This political message transfers to Hail to the Victor, one of the least effective tracks, with heavy-handed references and a lack of real anger or emotion. However, these less impressive moments are brief and in the context of the whole album are quickly forgotten.
Both the music and themes seem to vary drastically between songs, but not to the album’s detriment. There is a lack of a cohesive message but the multiple subjects including love and loss are portrayed expertly and prevent the songs from becoming repetitive. The music is similarly experimental, from the phenomenal Rescue Me offering a blend of rock and electro with impressive vocals to the stripped back, acoustic Remedy and the instrumental Monolith. These switches in tone can be jarring at times but all serve to create a diverse and ambitious album which tackles every genre with energy and skill.
A clear example of the shifting tone is the progression from the early optimistic songs including Live Like A Dream to haunting and seductive tracks such as Love is Madness (featuring Halsey), a dark and sultry number, tinged with themes of scorned love, which is portrayed through almost monotonous lo-fi vocals. The band also show their ability to collaborate well, with One Track Mind featuring A$AP Rocky blending rap, screeching vocals and a sinister EDM backing track. These darker songs are the highlights of the album, perfectly capturing the sensuous, dangerous atmosphere of the lyrics.
America feels like a very well thought out experiment that, with a few minor exceptions, pays off. Branching into new genres and blending a range of themes and sounds, Thirty Seconds to Mars offer a diverse, ambitious and catchy album.