Music Review: The Mars Volta's The Bedlam in Goliath

by Stephen Tringali

The Mars Volta’s latest album, The Bedlam In Goliath, is a sonically streamlined effort. Gone are the ambient noise-filled interludes of their second record, Frances The Mute. In their place are fleshed out jam sessions that draw on the usual Volta influences: jazz fusion and metal. In this sense, their latest album is a throwback to the properties of their first, De-Loused In The Comatorium. Its rock and roll sessions flow continuously for more than one hour and fifteen minutes — a length that seems excessive no matter what genre listeners enjoy.

If The Mars Volta have one glaring fault it is their love of excess. Their songs rarely run below the six-minute mark, and their albums never play for less than one hour. Some bands manage to hold listeners attention for this length of time. For instance, Yo La Tengo’s two best albums, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, run more than an hour long. But they are composed of various musical dynamics. Some songs play off as melodic, acoustic pop while others scream with distorted skronk guitar.

The Mars Volta, on the other hand, have one game, and they don’t play it particularly well. Their songs, all neatly concocted variations on the one musical snap-shot that screams “This Is Mars Volta, and This Is What We Do,” rumble forward on the momentum created by metal-influenced rhythm guitar, jazz fusion-style keyboard and lead guitar interplay, and falsetto singing. These elements alternately stick together into tight rock formation and break into jazz and jam band-inspired improvisation.

A song like “Aberinkula,” which opens the album with a blasting chorus section and then quietly devolves into its verses only to later explode into the same riff-drive chorus, borrows from the De-Loused track “Intertiatic E.S.P.” Not only is the song structure similar, but the instrumentation — a particular aesthetic and timbre shared by nearly all Mars Volta songs — sounds too similar to prove itself worthy of extended listening.

The Mars Volta formula quickly grows old, especially considering that it’s been utilized to varying degrees on every one of the band’s other three albums since their first was released in 2003. Perhaps the band’s fans will find The Bedlam In Goliath to be of minor interest. But the majority of the rock listening crowd will likely be looking forward to the future classic rock influenced releases of the year: The Black Keys’ Attack & Release (due out April 1) and My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges (out June 10).

(Photo of The Mars Volta by niken2506 via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see The Mars Volta play their single "Wax Simulacra" from The Bedlam in Goliath on Late Night with David Letterman, please check below.)

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