From the beginning I want to make one thing very clear, I hate this album. Now we could pack up there and nobody would be surprised, it’s not like music journalists and fans are clamouring for more discourse on Thirty Seconds to Mars, the Los Angeles alternative-rock band spearheaded by Jared Leto and famous for that one song where they do the pop-rock emo thing which was really popular back in 2002. I could stop this review right here and everyone would be “yep, makes sense” because all you need to know is that Thirty Seconds to Mars are a band who had a pop-rock emo hit in the early 2000’s and are still making music. I don’t even need to mention the words “relevance”, “desperate” and “outdated”, they’re already here, conjured up by our current alternative rock music climate where the most popular band in the business is Imagine Dragons, we can already see how this goes down.
In fact, we’ve already seen how this goes down because we know that Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte, Linkin Park and Papa Roach have all released terrible albums in the last couple of years and all those acts were much more successful than Thirty Seconds to Mars. So in short nobody needs this review to happen, people who like this band are going to like this album and everyone else is either going to ignore it or randomly come across it and respond with the standard and reflexive response: “yuck, why am I listening to the sonic equivalent of a sentient washing machine brag about how cool it is that dolphins die from human plastic oh wait no it’s the new Thirty Seconds to Mars album”. So why am I reviewing it if we already know how it sounds without having to listen to it? Well the purpose of most reviews is to provide a summary of the music, provide opinions and back these opinions up with examples drawn from the music. The purpose of this review is to actively work towards a future were no other album like AMERICA ever gets made again.
Let’s start with the album covers. That’s right, more than one album cover, because this is one of those albums which is trying to create the allusion of existing in and interacting with online cultures when all it’s doing is exploiting a gimmick. The gimmick is of course that they just list things. Like people who are searched, richest Youtubers and dangerous sports. Now there are many problems with how they are representing this information, for one it looks ugly as all shit and for another the sources of information aren’t exactly indicative of a popular opinion (the most popular sex-positions are taken from askmen.com). However it’s the intended effect which makes one sigh, shake their heads and let out a belated “jeez Louise”. That’s essentially the message here, the group is making us look at the things which we know are popular and smugly telling us “look at these popular things!!!”. The reason Leto offered behind these lists is that he wanted to provide a “time capsule” which “give us a sense of the culture”. Yeah that’s right, you’ve heard it from the person who keeps on acting in roles better suited for minority representation, this album is important and will help people in the future understand our culture!
So what glimpses into the cultural zeitgeist of America in 2018 does the album AMERICA offer through its music? What conclusions would a species of hyper-intelligent aliens say about humanity at this point in time if they only had this album to go from? Well they’d probably conclude that music served the sole purpose of being in the background of Hollywood movie trailers. An extreme example of this can be seen in how ‘Monolith’ the track from the album that features in the trailer for the album (yes that’s a thing, hold your groan) is a tasteless incorporation of the horns from Zack Hemsey’s ‘Mind Heist’ which was featured in the ‘Inception’ trailer in 2010 and formed the tone for movie soundtracks for about three years. The fact that the band still thinks this is a relevant or even respectful homage is just one in the valley of many examples as to how out of touch these guys are. The production follows the success of The Chainsmokers with their four chord piano future and loud, crashing, high-pitched drops that are just oh so dramatic. Every word sung by Leto goes on for at least three seconds longer than it should, it’s actually kind of confusing because often his vocals, or the structure, don’t change much in between verses and choruses so if it weren’t for the fact that he was repeating similar phrases we would have no idea where the chorus actually starts and essentially which parts of the song are meant to be climactic. In fact even the repetition of phrases isn’t enough because like, sometimes that’s all they’ll do for a good three minutes. The fact that this bullshit hasn’t been dragged through the court of public opinion as repetitive, shallow and derivative suggests to me that Leto and co’s marketing technique of making people think that this album is ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’ has worked just enough for people to overlook this disgusting mediocrity.
And this makes me mad.
Not merely because when I hate something I want other people to hate it as well so I can exist in a comfortable echo chamber of hate where we listen to Power Noise and watch that scene from Fight Club where Jared Leto gets the shit beat out of him for being too pretty. I’m angered because a lot of people right now are convinced that music must have a message or a meaning for it to be considered worthwhile. This is simply not true and interpretations of subjective meaning represent a small portion of what can be gained from music consumption. However, if you are going to posture meaning as a value to hold above all others then you best be ready to actually say something. If you are going to present to me song topics about the election year, personal internal conflict and the importance of hope in a bleak world then you better at least try to be relatable. In short, if you are going to champion ideals that I support then you better do the bare minimum in trying to convince me that you’re not doing so to simply get my attention and my money, you’re doing so because you care about these topics. For me, this bare minimum was not upheld and the only value I saw upheld like a golden standard for moral judgment was teen-angst.
I hate this album but I don’t hate it as much as I love my favourite albums. I just hate it enough to never want to listen to anything like it ever again. Not only that, I actively discourage anyone from making music like Thirty Seconds to Mars did here. I’m sorry, if you are an up and coming artist with a ridiculously high-production budget to allow you to make this kind of album then I have to tell you to stop. Your musical aspirations are stupid and you should feel bad about having them. This may seem harsh but…
Oh, and there’s a Halsey feature because of course there is.