It's been five years since Thirty Seconds to Mars released their last album; in the interim period, Jared Leto has seen his acting abilities recognised with an Academy Award, while also taking a turn at the iconic role of The Joker. Turning his attention back to music, the band are presently touring Europe in support of 'America', their fifth record, before embarking on a huge number of North American dates.
Having started very firmly as an alternative rock act, the evolution of 30STM's aesthetic can be simplified into a more radio-friendly sound resulting in greater popularity. This isn't to say they became a pop band - far from it - but they found the knack of hooks to enable them to join the likes of Linkin Park and Muse on the road, with anthemic guitar riffs for their fans to belt out. 'America' sees the biggest departure in their sound since their second album, though it isn't immediately evident on the gospel-tinged 'Walk On Water'. The lead track features the trademark (and overused) "whoa/oh" chanted hooks, which has been evident on much of the band's material on their last two LPs. 'Dangerous Night' and 'Rescue Me' provide the first real evidence of a near abandonment of traditional instrumental sounds for a more synthetic approach; beats, samples and electronics often providing the backdrop to Leto's unmistakeable vocals. It's an approach which was hinted at as far back as 'Hurricane' from 2009's 'This Is War', but now fully embraced by the trio.
Particularly successful is the duet with Halsey, 'Love Is Madness', which sees a back-and-forth vocal battle with a thumping soundscape. A surprisingly light touch to 'Live Like A Dream' also pays dividends with a lick of new wave, while drummer Shannon Leto takes a successful turn on the microphone with 'Remedy', the quality of tune doing enough to rescue some repetitive lyrics. Only the collaboration with A$AP Rocky, 'One Track Mind', misses the mark completely with a tuneless four minutes which fails to develop. There's no doubt the band risk alienating some who adore their guitar-driven output and some of the material here takes multiple listens hit home, but in the main their gamble pays off.
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