It's easy to take potshots at actors turned musicians, since it often seems like the actors are taking advantage of their celebrity by turning into recording stars. This ignores two facts: first, often these actors have been playing music for as long as they've been acting; and second, who's to say that these critics, if put in the same position, wouldn't take advantage of their celebrity to pursue their dream projects? In the case of 30 Seconds to Mars, the metallic post-grunge quartet led by Jared Leto (after all these years, still best-known as Jordan Catalano on the alt rock-era TV series My So-Called Life, although he has been excellent in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and David Fincher's Fight Club and Panic Room, as well), these actor-turned-musician arguments don't really matter since, by any measure, the band is quite awful. A melange of U2 atmospherics, grunge angst, gothic brooding, and metal guitars, the band floats out of time, inspired heavily by '90s alt rock but too clean, heavy, and facile to truly be part of that tradition, yet too indebted to the past to sound like part of the 2000s, either. Their second album, 2005's A Beautiful Lie -- whose title is uncomfortably close to Nine Inch Nails' "Terrible Lie" (and is most likely not borrowed from the Amazing Rhythm Aces' 1975 song of the same name, either) -- is a little tighter and more streamlined than their eponymous 2002 debut, but the basic angst-ridden rock remains the same. Leto isn't a terrible singer -- a little too breathy at times and a little too inclined to dive into a full-throated scream, but not terrible -- and the bandmembers are capable enough at shifting from tense quiet verses to piledriving, heavy choruses, but they borrow the worst habits from all their favorite groups, and then assemble them in insufferably earnest fashion, playing clichés as if they were revelations. It's a bleak yet hammy collection of self-absorbed gloom-rock, a record where an allusion to the title of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" is treated as something soul-searching and profound (of course, it does hurt that A Beautiful Lie is being released just a month before "Just Like Heaven" is being borrowed for the title of a Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy). It's clear that Leto and the rest of 30 Seconds to Mars really mean it, man -- this is as earnest as an emo record gets.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine