Alternative rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars return with their fourth studio album and first album in four years, Love Lust Faith + Dreams, following 2009’s This Is War. Conceptual and ambitious, Love Lust Faith + Dreams has its finer moments as well as moments that are overwrought, overextended, and overproduced. The best material graces the front of the album while the middle and back-half are less triumphant.
“Birth” establishes the tone, with magnificent production constantly crescendoing to reach an illustrious peak. Characterized by brass and string timbres, the beauty and the craft is indisputable. Frontman Jared Leto sings indulgently, truly invested into the lyrics. If “Birth” foreshadows, “Conquistador” reveals the total picture, filled with dirty guitars that rock from the onset. Leto never fights the production for vocal clarity, even when things grow gargantuan on the anthemic chorus. The consistency continues into “Up in the Air”, even as Leto is his most introspective lyrically: “A thousand times I tempted fate / A thousand times I played this game … ” or “Up in the air ... all of the laws I broke and loves that I’ve sacrificed / Is this the end?” Overloaded, “Up in the Air” is enjoyable even if the band could have ‘chilled out’ a bit.
“City of Angels” isn’t too shabby, filled with minimalistic ideas and pummeling drums. That said, it wouldn’t have been compromised by edits to curb length. The brief “The Race” atones, anchored by a thudding beat that gives off a danceable pop sensibility. Even better, “The Race” opens with a superb recurring string line that adds great intensity and emotion. “Hey! It began with an ending / Hey! We were fighting for the world / Hey! My desire never ending / Hey! The race, the race,” Leto sings enthusiastically on the catchy chorus. “The Race” ranks among the top tracks from Love Lust Faith + Dreams. Following the opening quintet of songs, the flaws appear more regularly throughout.
“End of All Days” makes an excellent effort towards diversification by contrasting time signature (it’s in six as opposed to four). Leto manages to remain gritty, even through the cut’s a ballad. The main rub is length, as a decent cut becomes one belabored too long. “Pyres of Varanasi” is a pleasant instrumental track for the most part (with some indecipherable, inconsequential vocals), but begs the question of ‘what is the band aiming for?’ “Bright Lights” revisits a thudding beat, which becomes a mark of sameness as opposed to distinction. Essentially, the cues remain intact, but the ‘cards have been revealed’ several times over.
“Do or Die” once more relies on a familiar beat as well as liberal layering. “Convergence” takes on a similar role to “Pyres of Varanasi”, with the spoken word “dreams” concluding the number. “Northern Lights” is the best track from the back-half by far, with Leto and the band sounding more invigorated and creatively invested. It drags on too long, but joins the list of better cuts. Closing song “Depuis Le Début” contains three separate sections, matching the scattered nature of a somewhat confused conceptual album.
Overall, Thirty Seconds to Mars have some great ideas and some solid moments on Love Lust Faith + Dreams. That said, putting ambition successfully into practice and sometimes overindulging in ‘great ideas’ sometimes undoes those ideas. Sure, the synthesized ideas are thoughtful enhancing things, but even the greatest enhancers can grow predictable after a spell. Flawed yet with some redemption, Love Lust Faith + Dreams is a mixed effort.