Thirty Seconds to Mars’ New Album ‘America’ Is a Bombastic Blockbuster

When he’s off the silver screen, Jared Leto takes the stage with his brother Shannon and guitarist Tomo Miličević, collectively known as Thirty Seconds to Mars. The band 2002 debut found Leto applying his acting chops to the role of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, while the band indulged in space rock whims. Later releases have brought the band more front and center in mainstream alternative rock, becoming steadily both more commercial and more eclectic. Their latest release, “America,” is a blockbuster of an album, served with a generous portion of standard American rock fare.

Album opener, “Walk On Water,” begins with “oh oh,” the “millennial whoop” that’s made its way into countless hits over the last decade from the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen and Kate Perry. But the “oh ohs” go even further back — Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.” It’s an appropriate sound to start off Thirty Seconds to Mars’ new album, as it encapsulates their general approach: a freely curated collection of clichés. It’s as if the sole qualification for any sound making the final cut is that has been thoroughly played out, overdone mercilessly until stamped indelibly on the collective psyche.  This isn’t necessarily a bad approach. In fact, one might consider it the most effective approach, depending on what you’re going for. Leto and crew seem to know their target market, and they’ve regularly sold out stadiums, and earned high praise from such publications as Rolling Stone and Kerrang. That said, this is not music for connoisseurs. Take popular music, distill and funnel it repeatedly, until all that remains are the most jarringly common trends. Assemble these together with a slipshod disregard for creativity, and you have “America.” One can only imagine the obnoxiously clueless confidence that would allow someone to name an album after an entire country, especially when that album is this album. People in Estonia must be rolling on the floor laughing — but then, that’s nothing new.

The album wastes no time in assuming stadium proportions. “Walk on Water” is an epic affair, inflated histrionics, with Leto screaming his inspirational lines right in your face. Next up, “Dangerous Night” is an effective pastiche, with slick, syncopated drum shuffles, studio-happy vocal stutters, and neat, crisp guitar figures, over which Leto sings, “What a dangerous night to fall in love.” Instead of “love,” however, he pronounces it, “Low- ow- ow,” seemingly morphing his lips into a display resembling Zoolander’s “Magnum” look. Then, on cue, the track erupts into a sweeping, anthemic chorus. The stale, alternative rock format, which Radiohead’s Thom Yorke once described as a “fridge buzz,” is something which Thirty Seconds excel in. Slow, subdued verses build up to brief breaks, whereupon a snappy lyric is delivered with comically serious gusto, and the band explodes into raging, distorted guitars, with soaring vocals that alternate between soft-dude whining and macho grunting.

“One Track Mind” features a guest appearance from A$AP Rocky, a tiny verse crammed into a pop song that seems to have been carefully kept brief and restlessly varied enough to appeal to ADHD instincts. Rocky’s voice offers some refreshing variety, and he sounds flawless for his few seconds on the beat, but the randomness of having him spit a few bars out of the blue on this particular song is just a bit silly.

In “Love Is Madness,” Leto continues his creative pronunciation, declaring, “Be your low-ver.” Confusing and cringe-inducing as this might be, the song benefits from Brooklyn singer Halsey’s contributions. She and Leto howling away and oh-ohing together makes for a dynamic, if silly, duet. Trap high hats add swagger to the beat, and some wild siren-type sounds and white noise towards the end swell the track to epic proportions.

Great Wide Open is a clear standout, on which Leto truly shines as a singer. He goes full Bono, invoking the Irishman’s trademark inflections, but without falling into fawning mimicry. He belts out soaring, expansive melodies that intensify into full screams, and glide, at moments, into effortless falsetto. It’s an impeccable performance, a real act of showmanship. The dramatic singing continues on the next track, “Hail to the Victor,” but Leto loses the poise, and reverts to his usual howling. The song is a hard rock stomper, however, so it works. It’s also arguably the danciest track on the record, with dirty, droning, pulsating bass, a propulsive hip hop beat, and an EDM build up with hand claps. The carefree, indulgent heaviness in drolly invigorating.

“Dawn Will Rise” features more massive drums and loud guitars, as well as syrupy autotune crooning. “Remedy” is a rare acoustic moment, a welcome change of pace from all the bluster. Leto’s instantly catchy intonation upon the titular word is what makes the song. “Live Like a Dream” turns the theatricality back up to the levels of the opening track, with more impassioned, inspirational beckoning, and choirs concerted in choruses of even more “oh ohs.” The final track, “Rider” rides the wave of this drama, enveloping the listener in strings that swell to a sudden, final holt.

“America” has been released in a global campaign involving multiple album covers. Each comes in a bright color with a set of bold words in Helvetica, seemingly meant to convey some aspect of the album’s title.  One features six popular sex positions, as reported by “AskMen.” One features Apple, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, and IBM as five of the most valuable trabemarks as reported by Forbes. Another names government organizations, “FBI, CIA, NSA.” The most well-fitting, however, might be the one that reads, “Kim, Justin, Jesus, Michael, Mickey, Donald.” The litany of names gives an accurate impression of how much subtlety and sophistication should be expected from the album. Simultaneously, it hints at how popular it will be.  

America” is available April 6 on Apple Music.