It comes as a surprise to some people that Thirty Seconds to Mars is more than a vanity side-project for Jared Leto (it also includes his brother Shannon on drums and Tomo Milicevic who plays pretty much anything), and rather a serious band in their own right. AMERICA is a quite different sound to their previous albums, with more elements of a techno-pop sound than their previous, alt-rock guitar-laden albums. With AMERICA as the title, the album tries to be more political and musically diverse than previous efforts, its variety of musical styles similar to the variety of people in America (charted by the band visiting all 50 states as part of the promo).
The opening song Walk on Water gets the album off to a strong start with an anthemic sound and also gets the political element off to a good start with lines like “the far right, the left view, breaking all those promises made…” Whilst Jared Leto in one interview stopped short of saying it’s a reaction to Trump, its a reaction to Trump, yet the repeated “times are changing”, gives the song a more optimistic tone than might be expected. The choir chanting “Walk on Water” during the bridge is surprisingly effective as well.
The bass-driven Dangerous Night, the second single and second song on the album, continues in strong form, powered by a synth-drum beat in an infectious nod towards pop-rock. Experimental is going to be a word that gets chucked around with this album quite a lot (probably fairly - they are trying a decent amount of new stuff), and the different experiments on the album are vastly different in their level of success. Sadly One Track Mind just does not work. Another synthy- electro based song, One Track Mind is just bland and repetitive, up to A$AP Rocky’s contribution at which point you’re wishing for a return to bland, repetitive and a bit annoying. Whilst Rocky’s sound fits with the song, the lyric “I heard there’s only thirty seconds to Mars and it took you even less just to get to my heart” is just lazy, arrogant writing and spoils his contribution.
The next “song” Monolith is one minute forty seconds of Jared Leto channelling his inner desire to write a film soundtrack, disencongruous with the rest of the album but impressive and menacing. I’m yet to decide if this is just a vanity project that made its way onto the album, a very subtle political message about America, or something else entirely. Ordinarily I’d suggest it might be better suited to being the first or last track on the album but what it does do is very nicely lead into Love is Madness, a collaboration with Halsey. The electro-pop sound suits Halsey perfectly and the back and forth followed by duet of Leto and Halsey is a surprisingly gives a surprisingly soulful and effective vocal line. This is one of the good experiments.
The second half of the album starts almost with pressing the reset button with Great Wide Open. Moving back to singing about a land “of blood and dreams” (presumably America), the track is a slow building anthem blending wistful hope with emotional rawness as Leto pleads to be set free. Hail to the Victor features political implications, bass-drops, a keyboard and a whole lot of synths as Leto questions the point of day-to-day life. It feels incomplete as a song, but is nonetheless a bold effort. Dawn will Rise continues the political themes of the record, blending the synths and the older-rock elements of Thirty Seconds to Mars better than a lot of tracks. This is one which may slip under the radar a bit, but certainly worth a listen.
Remedy is a song I should like - a reflective, guitar-driven ballad of uncertainty. It almost works but it’s not quite there, slightly overdoing the repetition on what could be a really tight, lyrically strong track. Live like a Dream channels elements of City of Angels (the band’s best song, period) as well as allowing Leto to be complemented by yet another choir. Its not quite City of Angels but it is well-produced and optimistic allowing the best elements of the band’s production and Leto’s voice to shine through. Rider to close has a cinematic feel, minimalistic on vocals, anything but instrumentally: an orchestra closes out the album in a fittingly grandiose manner
America is bold, ambitious, charismatic, confused, promising, diverse and divisive, much like its namesake. It’s not a perfect album, for it to be so would detract from its theme. Caught between the good and the less good is evidence of a band wishing to try new things and unsure where its going next - some fans will hate it, others will love it. Coming to the end of my journey through it, I’m cautiously optimistic.