Review Summary: One of the first album-of-the-year contenders, "The Bedlam in Goliath" is for the most part The Mars Volta performing at their highest caliber yet.
To be quite mother f
ucking honest, I‘m a pretty large fan of the Mars Volta. You know what my favorite part is of being a fan of any band (besides cries of “YOU ARE NOT OBJECTIVE”)? Whenever a new record is released by whatever band you are a fan of, reading the opinions other have on it. It makes me immensely happy to see people say that the new Mars Volta album, The Bedlam in Goliath
, “made them love” TMV again, or they say its “f
ucking awesome”, or that “this sh
it rules”, I can’t help but smile. Of course, there are the people who say “its too long”, “The Mars Volta have run out of ideas” and “this sh
it sucks”. So who is right in all of this opinionated madness?
That’s right, I am.
The Bedlam in Goliath
is crazy good, being the most energetic and fun album The Mars Volta have put out to date. Even on the slower songs, there is more excitement and X-factor than any other Volta record before it. Songs like “Goliath” and “Cavalettas” are 7+ minute romps in pure, unadulterated prog insanity, with the group focusing more on writing tight songs as opposed to cramming 12 different riffs and drum fills and sax solos into a 5 minute pop song. The songs are also the shortest average length TMV have done since their debut, and it shows with less filler (although perhaps they could have trimmed a few songs by a minute or two) and more actual highlights.
“Goliath” is an interesting song in the sense that we’ve pretty much seen its evolution in a way a listener will rarely see. We heard early live takes last year during the later stages of the “Amputechture” tour, the first studio version on one of Omar’s solo records, and another slightly re-worked version on tours preceding that. This could all lead to a disappointing final product on this record, but luckily The Bedlam in Goliath
ends up with the best version of perhaps TMV’s most radio-ready track. Despite its seven minute span, “Goliath” boasts a huge, catchy chorus and a perfect introduction for a DJ to ramble over. It’s got some funk and its got some ever-so-slight smoothness to it, and of course lots of scales, but whether it’s the first four minutes being TMV’s take on radio rock to the complete reversal in its last half, “Goliath” is a superb song and makes its older versions (usually named “Rapid Fire Tollbooth) look tame in comparison.
isn’t just “Goliath + Bsides” nor does it follow in the same radio-friendly vein. Probably the only other example of a song that would even remotely work on radio is “Ilyena”, where the drumming from new cast mate Thomas Pridgen meshes perfectly with the mellow yet feisty mood of the song. It’s possibly the best mid-tempo song they’ve written, as its hypnotic while staying interesting throughout if you force yourself to pay attention, and its ending is one of the most cheesily awesome things TMV have ever done. “Wax Simulacra” is the first single but doesn’t exactly fit in the realm of pop, as Cedric’s strange delivery in the verses and the complicated drum fills don’t exactly make for the easiest sing along for scene girls and meatheads.
When the album works its best, its essentially a much better Amputechture
. It’s got that loose jazz feeling hanging over the album, and is much more out-rightly “prog” than either of their early albums. While the songs do it less, there are still those sudden shifts to something completely different, and still the wanky guitar solos and effects-drenched vocals. This time around though, those aspects are put to better use and restrained to fit the songs themselves better instead of basing all of the songs off of those pieces (if that even makes any sense). Think what Fortress
is to Kezia
(Protest the Hero) or what Lark’s Tongue in Aspic
was to Lizard
So the songs as a whole are tightened up, there is a standout track in “Goliath” and the as-of-yet unmentioned songs “Ouroborous” and “Conjugal Burns” both rule to varying degrees. What about the reason everyone listens to The Mars Volta: random kickass moments in songs that make you go “f
uck yes man”? There are plenty of those throughout the record, as long as you choose to acknowledge that is not De-Loused in the Comatorium
. Spread throughout the album are those little moments of goodness that reassure you that all is still well in Volta-ville after a minute of the same guitar riff.
There is the sudden shift to soft theatrics in “Metatron” and “Soothsayer”, which are two of the most majestic moments on the record. There is the *almost* heavy-as-he
ll riff in “Ouroborous” that appears out of nowhere, leading the song to be perhaps the first TMV song you could tag as “metal”. The most surprising moment on the record is saved for almost last, as near the end of “Conjugal Burns” you hear Cedric scream for a good period of time, and it’s likely scarier than any Saw
flick by a mile.
You may have heard some mumbo jumbo about a Ouija Board called “Soothsayer” or some such nonsense. Yeah, its all really irrelevant and really has no impact on the album besides being ITS MOST OBVIOUS INFLUENCE. The story of them being haunted by three souls, cursed during the recording of the album, and such is a great way to promote the record, but most of the lyrics are pretty out there and don’t even seem as coherent as the wack-job lyrics on De-Loused
. Maybe a more thorough examination in coming months will help make more sense of it, but for the most part the album is relegated to having awesome lines and little in the way of cohesion lyrically.
The Bedlam in Goliath
is simply an immense album. It’s hard for me to write on it, because I’ve written so much previously on what makes the band as great as they are. They’re the most experimental band you’re ever going to hear that has cracked the 500,000 sales mark in the new millennium, and on top of that they are constantly expanding their sound on each album. The album feels huge (and that may be because it does run five or ten minutes too long at 75 total) and epic, which Amputechture
severely lacked. It’s a total tightening of their sound, from the solos that now don’t feel placed just to be there, to the vocals that finally have grown into all the vocal effects that they want to use, to the general songwriting capacity the band has. What’s most important though is The Mars Volta sound like they are having fun making music again, and as a fan it reinvigorates me and definitely makes me remember why I loved them in the first place: great music tinged with a sense of cheekiness and a hint that yes, the Mars Volta know how cheesy and ridiculous their music is. Good thing is, they really couldn’t care less.
Standout Tracks: The Good, The Prog, and The Jungle Bunny Metal