The Mars Volta, ‘The Bedlam in Goliath’ (Universal)
Problema número uno: The Mars Volta no longer have the services of superhumanly hard-swinging drummer Jon Theodore, who kept even their knottiest epics grounded in the hips as well as the head — no small feat for a band determined to fill every millisecond with notes, beats, sound effects, or Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s often inchoate howl. (Helpful hint: A crucial element of both melodrama and funk is silence.) When Omar Rodríguez-López’s guitar was frantically channeling sixth-dimensional life-forms or something, you could always count on Theodore’s pound to keep things moving. ¡Qué lástima!
When Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-López started the Mars Volta in 2001, their context was obvious — they replaced the popular emo punk of their previous band, At the Drive-In, with proggy expansionism. They saw it as growing up (or at least out). Except they just kinda kept going, becoming less and less comprehensible. Bedlam has moments that remind you just how powerful the band can be (the tough, trippy wah-wah funk of “Ilyena” scorches; at a compact 2:39, “Wax Simulacra” tastefully declines to cover its gut-punch riff in excess prog goop), but it’s exhausting trying to find them. Fans may see this as integrity, but most folks don’t have that kind of time. For the Volta, more is always more, but rarely has a band with this much potential been so willing to squander its strengths.