30 Seconds to Mars' "Up in the Air": Too Shiny For Any Real Feelings
Is anyone else really shitting surprised that 30 Seconds to Mars is still making music? Like, who really saw that coming? When the first album came out (over a decade ago, incidentally), we were like "Oh, that's cool, Jared Leto has turned into Jordan Catalano in real life! Let him do some role-playing for a while -- this nonsense will all be over soon enough." But no. Here the band still is. On the verge of releasing a fourth full-length. Can't this nightmare be over already?
It's not just that Leto is a better actor than a musician. It's not just the horror stories we hear in backstage rooms about Leto's rumored egomania and the persistent, alleged tales of bratty behavior that continue to follow him around. Put in the simplest of terms, when we think about 30 Seconds to Mars, we just cannot figure out who the hell is still buying the band's music at this point. To illustrate why, here's the brand new single, "Up in the Air":
"Up in the Air" is a really great example of why 30 Seconds to Mars has never done it for us. It -- like every 30STM song we've ever heard -- has all the elements necessary to make an exciting song, without ever actually becoming one.
We listen to "Up in the Air," with its vaguely dancey undertone, and its "woah-oh-oh" refrain, and its soaring chorus, and feel absolutely nothing about any of it. Nada. Zip. Because it's the sound of a band that understands the structural elements of anthems, and has figured out how to build nice big shiny ones, but never actually stopped to put any genuine emotion into the finished product.
Leto knows how to fake emotion and tries to get it in there that way -- he knows when to yell, he knows when to be quiet, and he knows when he's supposed to convey sadness or happiness or excitement. And he does that every time he sings. Problem is, it all feels incredibly hollow at its core. Everything is too shiny. We don't believe him. We can't engage with him. To make matters worse, while it's not really bad, his singing voice lacks personality, so there's a detachment present to begin with.
So, on and on 30 Seconds to Mars continues to trundle, writing songs that are perfectly constructed and fine, kinda. We just want to feel something real from these guys -- a glimmer of something we can empathize with, a story that sounds raw and fresh, a crack in the veneer. Something.
A copy of "Up in the Air" was sent into space on March 1st, with the Dragon spacecraft, which was delivering cargo, supplies and experiments to the crew of the International Space Station. What a genuinely great idea! But, let's face it -- terribly fitting. Just about the only place 30 Seconds to Mars would sound somewhat human is in a place where there are none.