The Mars Volta
The Bedlam in Goliath
January 29th 2008
Universal Motown Records
The purpose of a concept album is to imbue a collection of songs with a sense of cohesive spirit. Whether to tell a story or to construct an audial ambiance, its purpose is ultimately to provide an absorbable reason that these songs belong together on one album. From rock operas like Tommy to more the celestial songs of Dark Side of the Moon and OK Computer, concept albums rely on narratives that are interjected by the band, or by devout fans and are then supported by the songs themselves, or conversely an album might be released that when consumed by the public seem to contain a message or story. As the concept is defined by the audience, the band is asked about meaning and inspiration, and post facto significance is given to this or that line or note. The dialogue between the art consumer and the art producer is not always an intended result. Sometimes the work becomes bigger than the artist and meaning is derived from outside the act of creation. Albums that succeed allow for that dialogue to exist and in fact count on that process for definition. Unfortunately, today’s musicians, independent and otherwise, are releasing “concept” albums a dime a dozen. They make a record with lyrics that have a central theme, include a mysterious story narrating the meaning and purpose behind the record in their press release, and wait for it to seed in the consciousness of their audience.
Music has become increasingly disposable, especially in the independent market. Bands don’t expect to be relevant after five years and music consumers generally don’t have time to follow the careers of today’s hip band before tomorrow’s releases their killer first EP. The idea that bands make great music, and that fans then respond with loyalty and devotion has been abandoned by both sides of the equation. The dialectic that is required to generate nuance and complexity suffocates in their current lifespan. Of course this is a generality and there are plenty of bands that continue to generate legions of followers, but in shear numbers of releases by the multitude of bands, longevity has all but been jettisoned, and in terms of concept albums, longevity concerns have not abated the onslaught of concept records released. It seems as if these past few years every band has said, “It is time…to release…our concept album!” Yes Andy, everyone will have their 15 minutes.
Our friends Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta have made yet another heavily conceptualized record. This time however they have included in the press release a story of how Rodríguez-López purchased an “archaic Ouija board” in Jerusalem named “The Soothsayer.” They contacted an entity named Goliath who represented three spirits. After ritually speaking with Goliath after shows, the band experienced crazy spooky shit during their tour and subsequent recording of aptly titled The Bedlam in Goliath. You get it? There is mayhem in Goliath…’cause he represents three spirits. During the making of The Bedlam in Goliath Rodríguez-López decided to stop the madness inflicted upon them as a result of their communication with the dead by burying the board and keeping quiet about it as they recorded remainder of The Bedlam in Goliath. I am certain it was difficult to make an album about Goliath, while refusing to talk about Goliath. Eeewwwwhooohooew whooo …Spooky!
All sarcasms aside, The Mars Volta have made an album that never stops moving. The Bedlam in Goliath is as aggressive as much as it is laden with punctuated and punchy melodics. The music is loud and laced with bobbling prog guitar riffs and manipulated and mutilated bionic vocals. From start to finish The Bedlam in Goliath provides a solid and textural soundscape that is undeniably intense. Despite the music industry’s temperamental climate The Mars Volta have been able to maintain a sizable following. This is largely due to hold over fans from Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s and Omar Rodríguez-López’s former band At the Drive In. The Bedlam in Goliath offers a heavy, hard hitting collection of songs. It is unfortunate that The Mars Volta has decided to frame the music within the narrative of “The Soothsayer.” It comes off as silly, gimmicky, and all together trite. Keep my interest by putting out a good record. Don’t feed me this crap story in an attempt to elevate the meaning and significance of the music. The Bedlam in Goliath is a good record made by a great band, who to their detriment have sought to shroud their music in mystery. The Mars Volta should trust their fans to have the insight necessary to interpret their work. The less we know the better. This is especially true for The Bedlam in Goliath.
De-Loused in the Comatorium- 2003
Frances the Mute- 2005