Thirty Seconds to Mars: living on another planet?

Jared Leto can certainly sing, but this latest album is still a disappointment.

Jared Leto, of 30 Seconds to Mars performs at the 2013 KROQ Weenie Roast at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Saturday, May 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Katy Winn/Invision/AP)
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Thirty Seconds to Mars
Love Lust
Faith & Dreams
Polydor / Capitol

Nothing if not well-connected, the Los Angeles trio Thirty Seconds to Mars are fronted by the singer and Hollywood actor Jared Leto, a player in such major movies as Fight Club and Girl, Interrupted. Having sold more than five million albums to date, music is clearly much more than the between-films hobby that the alt-rock act Dogstar ultimately was for Keanu Reeves, but to these ears there's something oddly fabricated and hollow-sounding about TSTM.

Boasting a shadowy if substantial fan base that calls itself The Echelon, and their own motto (Provehito in Altum, which is said to mean "launch forth into the deep"), the group could almost be the product of a screenwriter's pen, rather than a living, breathing rock band. They also seem to enjoy the kind of privileges that would be the stuff of fantasy for most acts. Love Lust Faith & Dreams was recorded in Europe, India and California, its first single Up in the Air was premiered in orbit 370 kilometres above Earth with the help of Nasa, and its cover art reproduces a work from Damien Hirst's Spot Paintings series.

It’s disappointing, then, that the trio’s fourth album is the kind of portentous, woolly-thinking affair that gives concept albums a bad name.

It’s split into four different sections, and a female voice with all the charisma of an electronic call-queue recording announces each of its titular headings in turn. Beneath the garish, showy arrangements, there’s very little of substance, lyrically speaking. “Bright lights / big city / she dreams of love”, sings Leto at one point. He’s hardly stretching himself there.

Though songs such as Conquistador and The Race seem to aim for the kind of futuristic, neo-prog splendour of Matt Bellamy’s band Muse, they actually sound a tad dated, and this is unfortunate for a band whose moniker is reportedly a metaphor for the exponential growth of technology. Up in the Air, meanwhile, seems uncertain whether it wants to be an emo-rock stadium-filler or a Christina Aguilera-esque floor-filler, and is horribly, irredeemably, overwrought.

To be fair, Leto can certainly sing and his elder brother Shannon can drum, but the only decent melody here comes when the album closes with a musical box playing a snatch of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

If you're going to make a good concept album you have to have something to say, but Love Lust Faith & Dreams has nothing to say and an awkward way of saying it. The musical equivalent of a straight-to-video dud.

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