A Beautiful Lie differs notably from the band's self-titled debut album, both musically and lyrically. Whereas the eponymous concept album's lyrics focus on human struggle and astronomical themes, A Beautiful Lie's lyrics are "personal and less cerebral".
A Beautiful Lie was recorded on four different continents in five different countries over a three-year period to accommodate lead singer Jared Leto's acting career. The album's title track, as well as three other songs, were composed in Cape Town, South Africa, where Leto was later met by his bandmates to work on the tracks. It was during this time that Leto conceived the album's title. Prior to this, the album was tentatively to be released under the title Battle of One. It was leaked onto peer-to-peerfile sharing networks almost five months before its scheduled release; the version of the album that leaked was unmastered. Because of this, the band was forced to set back the album's release date.
To promote A Beautiful Lie, Thirty Seconds to Mars included the songs "Battle of One" and "Hunter" (originally performed by Björk) as bonus tracks. "Golden passes" were also included with three of the special versions of the album that entitled the buyer free entrance and backstage access to any Thirty Seconds to Mars show for the rest of their formation.
A Beautiful Lie sold 21,000 copies in its first week of release in the U.S. and has gone on to sell more than 1.2 million copies in the U.S. alone.
On November 26, 2006 a special edition of A Beautiful Lie was released and features different artwork, a third bonus track (all versions have at least two); the UK version of the song "The Kill" entitled "The Kill (Rebirth)," and a DVD that features the music video for "The Kill", the making of the video for "The Kill," live performances and MTV2 moments involving the band.
Before production of the Deluxe Edition, the band requested that the members of the "Echelon" send in their names so that they could be thanked for their support over the years. As a result, the inside cover(s) of the Deluxe Edition contain a large list of printed fan names. In addition to this, the front cover contains a holographic image consisting of the Mithra (phoenix) and the Trinity (skulls).
A Beautiful Lie was re-released on November 26, 2007, following extensive touring throughout Europe, in an attempt to expose themselves to a larger audience. The re-release is essentially the same as the original release, although includes different artwork. The album was re-released in Ireland again in November 2007, the version contains the UK version of "The Kill" and a second bonus track, and an acoustic version of the song "A Beautiful Lie" recorded live on a radio session.
A Beautiful Lie received generally positive reviews from music critics. Jon Wiederhorn from Revolver noted that "intensity and passion clearly inform the textural hard rock of A Beautiful Lie," which "boasts echoing riffs, moody bass lines, and strong vocal melodies that evoke a radio-friendly mix of Staind, Nine Inch Nails, U2, and The Cure."Jaan Uhelszki of the San Francisco Chronicle described the album as "full of ferocious electronics, overcaffeinated guitar lines and anxious drumming paired with brainy, brittle but emotionally austere lyrics."Nylon magazine called it "an album that is digestible without losing the rough-around-the-edges appeal that the band's rapidly expanding fan base crave."Alternative Addiction commented that the band recorded "an album with a handful of very impressive tracks," beginning with "Attack", the first song on the record, which "soars sonically with processing mixed and forceful vocals."
Christa L. Titus from Billboard felt that the band "proved its potency" with songs like "The Kill", "Was It a Dream?", and "From Yesterday", and praised Leto's vocal ability by writing, "[he] alternates between cathartic shouts and a tantalizing croon that shows his capable vocal range." Kaj Roth from Melodic praised the sonic variety and summarized the record as "an impressive list of anthemic rock songs." Davey Boy of Sputnikmusic echoed this sentiment, writing that A Beautiful Lie "works well as an album due to greater variety". He also found the record "a more controlled effort" than the band's debut album 30 Seconds to Mars (2002).Kerrang! magazine called it a "great album to close your eyes and fall in to, an anthemic eruption of upfront emotion."
In a mixed review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic wrote that 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." He found the band "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." Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone stated, "[d]espite some credible modern-rock tunes, Leto's self-involved myopia guarantees that his band's second disc is long on melodrama."