THE MARS VOLTA – The Bedlam In Goliath (2008)

the-mars-volta-the-bedlam-in-goliath.jpgI didn’t think it was possible.

I really didn’t think that The Mars Volta had it in them to make an album that was worse than 2006’s Amputechture. But they did. So kudos to them for raising (lowering?) the bar. Because The Bedlam Goliath is a hyperactive, progged-out disaster. And there’s very little of it that could be seen in a redeeming light. Whereas Amputechture had a few moments to it that approached something that could be considered prog, Bedlam has no such moments. It’s almost as if Cedric & Omar & co. decided to focus on drawing out all of Amputechture’s numerous flaws into a full-length experience of its own.

Is the above theory plausible? Who the hell knows? But it sure would explain a lot. It would explain the general aimlessness the albums has. The masturbatory guitar interludes. The lyrical incoherency.

It also would explain the vapid compositions, which are the album’s biggest problem. Listening to Bedlam is kind of like shacking up with an over-eager sex partner. There’s just one climax after another in these songs, and after awhile everything sort of cancels everything else out. You could take most of the passages in Bedlam and haphazardly rearrange them, and the album would sound basically the same. That’s how ambiguous the music is here. It’s tiring, and when it occasionally does hint at something, it quickly gets lost in an impenetrable aural thunderstorm.

This is exactly what happens with the album’s semi-title track, Goliath. At the end of the song, I was stunned to hear an actual conclusion: that is, the song actually built up from one thing to another thing from the time it started until the time it ended. But at this point, the damage had already been done; I had been numbed in the previous four tracks to the constant prog freakouts, and Goliath seemed to me to be business as usual, until the very end. Wikipedia informs me that the label wanted to kick the album off with Goliath, but the band wouldn’t have it. I can’t say what it would’ve done for others, but it would’ve made a world of difference for me.

If there’s one thing that The Mars Volta have improved on with Bedlam, it’s the length of the songs. Fortunately, there’s no 17 minute Tetragrammaton to sit through this time around. The band at least have the courtesy to divvy up their 75 minute opus into digestible sections this time around. But it’s really six of one or a half a dozen of the other, because the second biggest problem with the album is that the songs all bleed into each other: because they’re so similar in their construction, and because they all lack identity, it’s hard to tell a lot of the time when one song ends and another begins. So in the end, a tracklist for Bedlam is almost a formality; it’s still a long and indecipherable debacle, be it with twelve tracks or two.

When I listen to De-Loused In The Comatorium (the band’s debut album) I hear an ensemble, that’s pushing the bar musically, but are still totally in control of what they’re doing at the same time. They sound damn good there, perhaps good enough to spark some sort of neo-prog revival. But such a thing was never meant to be, I guess. The Mars Volta ironically seem content to wander in their latest albums, as opposed to actually progressing anywhere. To the people who never heard King Crimson’s THRAK, this album might be a revelation. But for the rest of us, it’s just a tiring and frustrating affair.



3 Responses to “THE MARS VOLTA – The Bedlam In Goliath (2008)”

  1. […] off on a crotchety note by reviewing The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath; my words were less than kind. Given the aimless nature of that album (coupled with that of Amputechture, and roughly 35 minutes […]

  2. […] but I actually do have a rather deep fondness for jam-based music. Now, I know, I know, I’ve slammed The Mars Volta for meandering and being directionless in the past, but really, I don’t mind […]

  3. […] rhythm over melody, openness over structure, etc. If you’re used to listening to things like The Mars Volta, you might decry something as contemporary as Jaga Jazzist as “too disciplined” but […]

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