Style changes are nothing new in the rock industry. Bands trying to create a new name for themselves through a different approach to music seems done to death in recent years. Thirty Seconds to Mars have now jumped on the bandwagon with their latest album, "America", which sees the band take on a more pop-infused approach. I've mentioned in previous reviews that I do like pop music when it's done right and in a creatively unique way. A way which defines itself from other generic tunes on the radio. Did TSTM achieve this? Most certainly not. As per usual, I shall be reviewing the album in a track-by-track format and shall be summarising the overall experience at the end of the review. I also feel I should say that I don't actively listen to TSTM, so I do not claim to be an expert in their previous work. I shall just be reviewing this album on its own merit.
01. WALK ON WATER - The album gets off to a pretty strong start with this energetic, punchy tune as gang, almost gospel-like, vocals guide the rhythm of the song. Jared Leto gives a solid vocal performance as he belts out, "Do you believe that you can walk on water?", the emphasised percussion lending extra power and vigour to the song. Is the song anything special overall? Not really. But it's still a solid tune which kicks the album off to a welcome start.
02. DANGEROUS NIGHT - Now we start to enter bland territory, a territory this album spends a large amount of time wallowing in. Unremarkable pop synths and a simplistic acoustic guitar pluck suck out any life and energy this song was going for. The auto-tune in Leto's voice starts to sound more prominent as he wails his way through the chorus. The bridge actually sounds like the song will build into a more layered and distinctive final chorus, but no, we are subjected to the same boring ballad again. A wall of noise with no stick.
03. RESCUE ME - Back are the guitar plucks and electronic drum beats, but new additions include pitch-shifted and chopped vocals. Oh, goodie(!) In the song's defense, the chopped vocals don't detract too much from the rhythm of the song but do become grating after a while. This song does not beckon returning to at all. It has no flavour, no sting.
04. ONE TRACK MIND (FEAT. A$AP ROCKY) - I can't make my mind up with this song. It is very similar to Rescue Me with its pitch-shifted vocals but a slower tempo and a more mellow vibe works in the song's favour. The breakdown during the chorus is a little grating on the ears but a decent electronic hook redeems the breakdown from becoming unbearable. Even A$AP Rocky's verse isn't too bad and works with the vibe of the song, vocal manipulation aside. Finally, the song ends with a biting guitar solo before dropping off to a close. Certainly a mixed bag of a song but it doesn't fall into generic grounds quite as badly as previous songs.
05. MONOLITH - This interlude track provides a solid, tribal-like drum beat as orchestral strings can be heard overlaid in the background. The track slowly builds into something quite cinematic before abruptly dying down, leading into the next track.
06. LOVE IS MADNESS (FEAT. HALSEY) - This slow, simplistic track contains those sweeping synths present in the previous songs but, like those songs, it just doesn't go anywhere. Not even Halsey's decent vocal performance can give the song any distinct uniqueness. Nothing grabs the ear at all with this song. Just more noise with no decent hook.
07. GREAT WIDE OPEN - This track actually gets of to a decent start as its quirky keys help give the song some substance. Leto even sounds like he could provide something different with a more restrained vocal performance. Then the breakdown occurs and the song, unsurprisingly, becomes nothing but a boring tune. I'm not a fan of "oh" vocals taking place of lyrics, as it sounds lazy and generic, providing nothing of substance. This song is guilty of that, as well as most of the songs on this album. I can't think of this song as anything other than background music. Something which one can listen to, but not take anything from it.
08. HAIL TO THE VICTOR - What an awful song. This album just gets worse and worse as it trudges through its bass-heavy tunes, gang vocals, and appalling pitch-shifting. There is absolutely no effort by TSTM to make this song in any way unique or enjoyable to listen to. The breakdown is incredibly jarring, with a scratchy bassline and horrendous shrill samples completely shattering the song to pieces.
09. DAWN WILL RISE - Just like with many songs on this album, this track sounds like it could actually go somewhere with its acoustic guitar, before the synthesised drums and auto-tuned vocals make this song nothing but a void of nothingness. The bridge leading into the outro also sounds incredibly similar to the tune present in the previous track, with a high-pitched synth and grinding percussion bringing this song to a shuddering end. I wish I could say more about these past few songs, but they are so devoid of anything interesting.
10. REMEDY - Remedy isn't even that good of a song, but in the context of the album, it's a breath of fresh air. Strums of an acoustic guitar and some light piano actually gives this song some identity, and Leto gives a decent performance, especially during the catchy chorus. After the barrage of white noise present in previous tracks, I'm glad this song has SOMETHING to give in terms of musical creativity.
11. LIVE LIKE A DREAM - Right as the song starts, one can't help but notice a more creatively layered presentation. The soaring synths sound pleasant on the ears and the strums of the acoustic guitar transforming into something more electronic during the verses is masterfully done. The inclusion of a backing orchestra on this track is a fantastic touch which elevates the song into something epic. The gang "oh" vocals are back but, like in Walk On Water, they're implemented cleverly so that they compliment the hook of the song and actually cover more than one boring note. I like when a song clearly builds upon its instrumentation from when it starts to when it ends, and this song does so brilliantly well. Finally, the song is topped off with an incredible bridge as Leto's harmonized vocals transform the song into something enchanting, almost magical. The final chorus again confirms how well-crafted this song is. When a song can create its own emotion, its own atmosphere, it's own reality, you know you've struck gold.
12. RIDER - The final track on the album again creates its own atmosphere; a biker riding off into the sunset, a couple parting ways, a relationship falling apart. This song covers everything related to letting go and saying goodbye. The peaceful strums of the guitar and more laid-back electronic presentation really helps give this song a sense of closure. Finally, the song builds and builds upon itself, with the snare drum-rolls getting louder and the strings increasing in volume before it all comes to an abrupt end. Literally, the track just suddenly cuts off in its prime. I had to check my media player to make sure I hadn't accidentally skipped to another song. A shame, considering it sounded like it was becoming something very climactic.
Overall, America is an absolute mess of an album. Most of the tracks are hard to define from one-another due to them relying on the same old techniques and cliches that have become tired in pop music. I can't help but find this album similar to Linkin Park's latest album One More Light, both in terms of context and musical content; both albums come from bands more associated with a heavier style of music, both marked a significant change in sound, and both were critically panned due to their reliance on tired pop elements and lack of any musical identity. However, I can't help but feel One More Light is the slightly better album. Is it a good album? Absolutely not. A weak spot in Linkin Park's mostly positive discography. However, even that album had its strong points and some songs actually tried to define themselves from one another, be it the groovy "Talking to Myself", the melancholic title-track, or even the more dreamy, EDM-infused "Sorry For Now". Besides a couple of songs, America does nothing to vary its songs from one another, and listeners are left with an empty void of generic pop tropes and simplistic tunes.
BEST SONGS: "Walk On Water", "Remedy", "Live Like A Dream"
WORST SONGS: "Love Is Madness (feat. Halsey)", "Hail To The Victor", "Dawn Will Rise"