I’m all for a little on-stage banter at rock concerts, it’s nice when Mr Big Rich Rockstar acknowledges the thousands of screaming fans that have just financed his new holiday house in the Hamptons, but when Jared Leto opened his mouth to speak (read: swear) between songs at Cokefest 2008, the general consensus was that he really shouldn’t have.
‘Alright all you crazy motherfuckers! I wanna see you fucking crazy motherfuckers fucking jumping up and down and fucking going crazy during this next fucking song, ok? Fuck yeah!’ Sure Jared, whatever. Wipe your face, your eyeliner’s running.
The best part was when he climbed the giant 50ft scaffolding rig on the left hand side of the stage all the way to the top and then, staring out at the Alberton Racetrack declared, ‘You should see how fucking beautiful you all look from up here!’
Me, I got so excited, I couldn’t help but pump my fist in the air while chanting, ‘Die! Die! Die! Die!’
They’re a pretentious band, and why the hell shouldn’t they be? Besides the fact that Mr Leto is every angst-ridden 13 year old girl’s (and in some cases 13 year old boy’s) ‘happy tissue’ fantasy, the band’s second album A Beautiful Lie catapulted them into international stardom almost overnight and was certified as platinum after selling 1 million albums worldwide.
So it’s no wonder that fans and critics alike were keen to sink their teeth into This Is War, which was released in December last year, to see which direction the band would take after the previous album.
Before I launch into this, I think it needs to be said that I never heard their first album and only caught the singles off A Beautiful Lie, so I’m writing this largely from an outsider’s perspective.
So what did I think of the album? Well, if I had to sum it up in a word, sadly that would would be ‘meh’.
The album was produced by Flood (aka Mark Ellis) who has worked with everyone from The Killers to PJ Harvey, The Smashing Pumpkins and more importantly, U2.
I say this because the U2 flavour on this album is undeniably strong. This Is War can best be described as stadium emo at its best. Almost every track is wrought with maudlin emotion and over-sentimentality, punctuated by slow, eerie Depeche Mode synth sections and Leto’s sometimes whispering / sometimes screaming vocals.
The album starts slow with the opening track ‘Escape’ that introduces the two most irritating aspects of this album – the monotonous Tibetan chanting that begins and ends the album and the vocal sections that are sung by a huge crowd of people who sound like they’re mostly made up of prepubescent girls.
‘Night of the Hunter’ however, is a vast improvement. The hard, cascading drum beat and Leto’s rasping, screaming vocals hook you on the first listen and, along with the effects-laden guitar riffs, carry you through all five and a half minutes of sheer emo hedonism.
This segues nicely into ‘Kings and Queens’, which is a surprisingly upbeat, anthemic track with a reverbed guitar riff in the verse that smacks of U2, but keeps the song interesting. On the first listen you may not think much of this track, but it does grow on you in time.
However, from there on in the album starts to miss the mark. The title track, ‘This Is War’ sounds like a rehashed version of ‘From Yesterday’, the acoustic track ‘100 Suns’ starts out well enough, but shoots itself squarely in the foot thanks to the inclusion of the aforementioned faux ‘crowd’ harmonising with Leto’s vocals and clapping at the end of the song, which I can only assume is because at 2 minutes, ‘100 Suns’ is BY FAR the shortest track on the album.
You’ll listen to ‘Hurricane’, ‘Closer To The Edge’ and ‘Search and Destroy’ 20 times and still not remember them, ‘Vox Pupuli’ contains the most cringe-worthy, gag-inducing crowd chanting I’ve ever heard on an album (‘This is a call to arms / Gather soldiers / This is a battle song / Brothers and sisters / Time to go to war’ – bleaugh) and the closing track ‘L490’ is pure filler and nothing else.
Having said that, track 10 (‘Alibi’) offers a nice change of pace and is the only song on the album that comes across as being sincere, thus proving that there might actually be real people underneath all that man-scara.
‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ with the classic lines ‘Enemy of mine / Fuck you like the devil / Violent inside / Beautiful and evil’ is also noteworthy. The dark and heavy bassline is the closest this album comes to being badass and as such, definitely deserves a mention as one of the stronger tracks on the album.
All in all, there is hardly a track off This Is War that can stand up to the singles that came off A Beautiful Lie and unless you’re a die-hard 30STM fan, there’s a good chance this album won’t make much of an impression on you and after 4 or 5 listens you’ll lose it underneath the passenger seat of your car and never find it again.
Call me a cold-hearted bastard but after hearing This Is War a number of times, all I’m left thinking is that maybe it would have been better if Leto had fallen off that scaffolding back in ‘08.
Final Verdict: 5/10