30 Seconds to Mars are something of an anomaly on several levels. First of all is the matter of their frontman, one Jared Leto, who accomplishes a nearly impossible feat in that he is both an actor and musician, and exceeds in both fields. This is not entirely unheard of, since one need not look any further than William Shatner to find proof that this sort of thing is possible . But anyway, the band also stands out (note the use of the word band – this is not simply an outfit for Leto to sell his face to the public) in that on this, their debut album, everything sounds surprisingly well-crafted. That is not to say that it’s a perfect album – it has its flaws, primary among them the fact that the creative songwriting runs out of steam for roughly a third of the album. Also irritating is the “concept” behind the record. Now I’ve nothing against concept albums, but when a band tries so blatantly to be thought-provoking and cryptic it ends up sounding rather pretentious and ultimately quite silly. Despite this, at certain points the lyrics actually come close to the lofty intelligence they crave, as on the songs “Edge of the Earth,” “Fallen,” and “End of the Beginning.” Musically, the majority of this album is pretty average hard rock, though with some spacey technical influences and metal sensibilities thrown in for good measure. Highlights are “Fallen” (which features a pretty simple yet memorable drum beginning and a nice atmospheric feel for the verses, and builds to an almost alt. metal-sounding chorus), “Oblivion” (a rather addictive piece ridden with cliches but still rather well-orchestrated), the radio-friendly “Welcome to the Universe,” and my personal favorite, “Echelon,” complete with almost darkly romantic overtones and an epic chorus. But not all of the album is quite so listenable. “93 Million Miles” begins promisingly but is marred by a chorus that lacks any real saving grace, melodic or otherwise. “Year Zero” drives its simplistic melody into the ground and then adds insult to injury by piling on the standard-issue spoken-word concept jargon. And then we have “Buddha for Mary,” which seems to be a perennial favorite among listeners of this album. While not terrible, I just can’t get into this song for several reasons. First of all the conceited lyrics and their even more pompous and out of place symbolism are pretty terrible. When you couple this with the fact that this song is essentially a diluted and very thinly-veiled attempt to write a song akin to Tool’s “Reflection,” you get what I consider the low point of the CD. The remaining songs are all decent and reasonably memorable, especially the stop-start pattern of “The Mission” and the chorus of “Capricorn (A Brand New Name).” Despite all my criticism, this is a surprisingly solid release. Though the general tone of this review may seem negative (as it does to me upon looking at it), I can’t help but like this CD. Sure it can be grating at times (mixing formulaic melodies and then trying to sound complex through the use of white noise or high-concept lyrics has never really worked), but it can also be beautiful. As such, it is worthy of four stars, and a place in every open-minded rock fan’s collection.