The Mars Volta: Amputecture
I think I have a pretty good case built up for why I have the worst job in the world. Writing Your Band Sucks requires that I pay attention to the music world, which is a lot like paying attention to a gigantic, overfed baby: it’s loud and it stinks. When most people turn on the radio, they have a certain luxury that they take entirely for granted: if a bad song comes on, they can turn it off. I, however, must scrutinize the bad song. I must furrow my brow, clench my butt (I don’t know why, but I must), and decide exactly how bad it is and what makes it bad, and then I must warn the public about its badness. It’s my one true calling in this life, and it mutilates my soul on a daily basis.
Some days, though, are a hell of a lot worse than others. Today, for example, there is a new Mars Volta album to wrangle. You may call be biased, but I’m predisposed to believe that it will suck. I’m sure that it will suck, and I’m comfortable with the fact that it will suck. The Mars Volta doesn’t owe me anything. I’m not a fan of the band, I’m not in the habit of buying their albums, and I have no emotional investment in their existence other than a twinge of righteous irritation whenever I hear their name. It doesn’t even particularly bother me that people like them. People are stupid. People like AM talk radio and urban-camo cargo shorts and Blender magazine. People are as entitled to their own aesthetically stunted taste as I am entitled to tell them how stupid they are, and as a good American, I relish the notion. Basically, I’d be fine for the rest of my life if The Mars Volta just stayed out of my way and I stayed out of theirs.
No such luck. I’ve painted myself into this little literary corner where I basically have no choice but to listen to their album and write about it. I can’t ignore the dozens, maybe hundreds, of e-mails reminding me that there’s a new Mars Volta album on the way and that I know what I have to do. I do know what I have to do, and I’m about to do it, God help me. I bet you’re worried about how magnanimous I sounded in the last paragraph, but let me just allay your worries: once I’m actually listening to a Mars Volta album, all bets are off. Listening to Frances the Mute was one of the worst experiences of my life. I hate them. I want to travel back in time and castrate their parents. I hate each band member personally. I hate their fans. I hate any person who has ever given them a dime, directly or indirectly. I want to burn down any concert venue that would stoop to host them.
Let’s get this show on the road. One listen, no repeats, all live and uncut:
Track 1: Vicarious Atonement
Hey, what do you know, it’s exactly what I thought I would hear! Some jingling, some wooshy swooping, some buzzing noises, some formless sub-Santana guitar licks. This is their way of proving to you that it’s a Mars Volta album: you wouldn’t be getting what you paid for if they didn’t spend a few introductory minutes insulting your intelligence and wasting your precious time. The Mars Volta are masters of musical grabass, and your stereo is their locker room. The horseplay continues unabated for several minutes, with no coach around to blow the whistle.
At three minutes, some indecipherable lyrics occur; I’m spared the misfortune of being able to tell what the hell they’re saying, thank heavens. I just know it would be something like “the bullwhip tickles christ’s phallic statuary.”
Oh, here’s something I picked out of the fracas: “I regret not killing you while I had the chance.” My sentiments exactly, Cedric (or Omar or whoever the heck it is who sings). I could have pulled a Michael Hutchence before this album started and spared myself the indignity of all this falsetto moaning and, but alas, I pressed on.
At five minutes in, I was momentarily uplifted by what seemed to be an ending, but it was a trap. I should be warier of their wiles, because if there’s one thing any canny foe of Volta should know, it’s that their songs never fucking end. But wow, I’m actually kind of impressed around six and a half minutes in, because I have never, ever heard a guitar made to sound so much like a cat being run through the dryer. And amid some free-jazz squawking, the track mercifully ceases.
Track 2: Tetragrammaton
But my torment is not over so soon, of course. This track is sixteen minutes long. The arrogance of this band is appalling! Do they really believe that they’re qualified to command a solid sixteen-minute block of anyone’s attention, let alone mine? Do they think that their sixteen minutes of autoerotic self-indulgence could compare to the kind of thoughts I could brew up in the same amount of time? I could be curing cancer right now, but they’re willfully wasting my time with their garbage. It’s not as if I can get any useful thinking done with this racket going on, since this track is kind of like having a nest of wasps blown into your brain with a leaf blower.
For the sake of moving forward with this sickening chore, I’ll temporarily forgive them for their maddening hubris and resume my commentary.
While I was writing that last paragraph, the song wandered through all the familiar Mars Volta topography: ceaseless guitar chatter, twittering drum abuse, ear-splitting falsetto shrieking and whoopsie-daisy, everything goes backward for a second (because they’re experimental, get it?). By the six-minute mark, they’ve run through their entire bag of tricks, including some vocal high notes that would make Freddie Mercury’s mustache burst into flames, so they have no choice but to slow things down and add some spooky noises and kind of start the track over at a more reasonable pace. Nothing much happens for a while.
And then at about eight minutes in, just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water, we’re treated to a brief, ugly little note-cramming solo. The vocals start back up, and the singer hits us with some of his patented idiocy: “the kiosk in my temporal lobe is shaped like Rosalynn Carter.” Hey, great idea, say some opaque bullshit, everyone will think you’re some kind of tormented genius. You’re not fooling anyone, Cedric (or Omar, who the fuck cares at this point). The kiosk in your temporal lobe is a fucking Sunglasses Hut, you pretentious little bitch. Oh, for a minute I forgot that these guys are experimental and progressive, but then they put some wacky effects on the vocals and it all came rushing back to me. Thanks, guys!
The kiosk in my temporal lobe is shaped like The Mars Volta getting mauled by bears.
The passage starting at 9:16 sounds like a botched attempt at the chorus from Mr. Blue Sky by ELO. Considering that everything these guys do sounds like a botched attempt at music, that shouldn’t surprise anyone in the least.
Okay, I’ve been listening to this thing for ten minutes now, I’m just going to close my eyes and lean back and dig it for a few minutes and maybe I can—wait, no, this is the worst shit I’ve ever heard in my life, and dignifying it with my undivided attention would be a crime against my own humanity. Somebody needs to call Amnesty International on these creeps.
Speaking of torture, the last minute or two of this song is a fucking atrocity. I remember reading about government experiments into “brown noise,” sonic frequencies which could make people poo themselves (for some reason). I don’t think they ever got it working, but The Mars Volta has done them one better. With this guitar solo, they’ve discovered noises so offensive to the human body that none could hope to withstand them. I think I can feel blood vessels bursting in my brain and vertebrae popping apart.
Okay, let me just go swab the spinal fluid out of my ears, then it’s on to track three.
Track 3: Vermicide
Maybe these morons even felt a little bad about how long and unbearable that last track was, so they’re letting me recuperate for a few minutes with a song that’s about ten times more obnoxious than anything any other band in history has ever made, but only about half as obnoxious as the last two tracks on the album. You have to shift your standards around a little when you’re listening to a Mars Volta album, and realize that tracks that are even half songish are a reward for your Christ-like patience.
Track 4: Meccamputecture
Starts off with a silly little rap reminiscent of that Savage Garden song “I Want You” or maybe “She’s Got the Look” by Roxette, followed by some wah squalls and the preposterous line “a necklace of follicles with saber-toothed monocles,” which will surely be upheld as great poetry by dropouts and biology majors who have never read poetry in their lives. More guitar ostentation follows, over a beat so plodding that it makes me feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. Oh, wait, I am banging my head against the wall.
I just knocked myself halfway out and drifted into a little fantasy that I was picking up a Crybaby pedal and clamping it like a stapler upon the guitarist’s Adam’s apple and squeezing the hell out of it, so that he might witness for one second the awful pain that his wah pedal inflicts upon others. And as long as I’m destroying larynxes, I’ve got one more stop to make…
Oh what the fuck, a saxophone solo? Now they’re just trying to be assholes. I could maybe buy the idea that they’re just artistically stunted egomaniacs with no control over their masturbatory impulses, but now that they’ve pulled this acid jazz sax shit on me, I know that they’re nothing but malicious, evil sons of bitches who are intentionally attempting to blow up the brains of any listener who might have a shred of taste.
The good news is that this track slid by pretty fast, because I was almost kind of exhilarated by how appalling it was.
Track 5: Asilos Magdalena
Even in the intro to an acoustic ballad, they just can’t resist shoving in some ear-splitting electronic bullshit to remind you how intense they are. Fuck these guys.
After the infuriating first minute, this track does absolutely nothing for the next four minutes or so, unless you happen to be into dull, half-competent Latin balladry that eventually degrades into yet another pointless salvo of slobbering guitars and unpleasant vocal filters.
Track 6: Viscera Eyes
There comes a point in every bad-album review when I pause and realize that there are actually fans of this garbage. Two awful minutes into Viscera Eyes, with the chorus blazing, the singer shrieking, the horns blowing a formless toot, the guitar pounding out an ugly little Zeppelin figure, I hit that unbearable realization that there’s somebody out there enjoying this crap at this very moment. I know I said it doesn’t bug me if people like shitty music, but when I’m actually sitting here listening to this hurricane of overblown fake-prog stoner bullshit, it’s just infuriating to imagine that some college kid is lying on his bongwater-stained dorm carpet with his bitchin’ Sennheiser “cans” on, really taking this shit in and paying attention and thinking it’s genius.
If you’re that guy, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that your taste is embarrassingly bad. You have absolutely no artistic sensibilities, and you latch onto overly elaborate, pompous bullshit because you mistake hyperserious, noodling pretension for worthwhile artistic endeavor. Maybe you’ve heard that good music is “challenging,” but you don’t know what “challenging” means to you, so you expect your music to pummel you with squalid noise and overcooked ten-minute epics. That’s an insult, not a challenge. Enduring a Mars Volta album and pretending to understand their retarded serious-artist posturing is no challenge, bro. Time to put down the pipe and go back to class.
I never thought I’d live to say this, but even Pink Floyd is better than this shit.
Track 7: Day of the Baphomets
Oh god, a fucking bass solo. Is that Flea? Get the hell out of my stereo, Flea, you are uninvited. I invited The Mars Volta only provisionally, so that I might make fun of them, but you weren’t part of the deal.
My god, everything that’s been wrong with any of the prior tracks has been combined and refined and intensified, leading to a hideous jazz-rock orgy. We’re also treated to an absolutely lovely two-note, hollered vocal melody.
I just got a phone call from my homeboy Sherman and it temporarily distracted me from listening to this awful crap. Thanks, Sherman! I already laid down my policy of not rewinding or repeating tracks, so I weaseled out of about three or four minutes of what was without a doubt some heinous noise. I came back and there was a fucking drum solo going on. Can you believe it?
Okay, I’ve picked it up about ten and a half minutes in, and there’s some wickedly irritating call and response going on between squeaky-voice #1 and squeaky-voice #2. It sounds like Alvin and Simon having some kind of screaming argument, and I want no part of it. Don’t cry, Theodore, it’s not your fault mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more.
Track 8: El Ciervo Vulnerado
Starts off with a bitchin’ slow-burning guitar solo; proceeds to go absolutely fucking nowhere for three or four minutes. Fuck this, I’ve earned my keep, I’m just going to skip through this one to see if anything happens, because if it proceeds like this the whole time I’m not going to bother listening to it.
Okay, I hear some jingling… some muttering… some sitars… and it looks like I’ve reached the end. You know what? That wasn’t fucking worth it. Whether or not you enjoyed this review, and I don’t care one bit if you did or didn’t: fuck you. Your patronage of my articles, your loyal readership, your support, made me feel somehow compelled to listen to this piece of shit, and it wasn’t worth it. You just put me through hell, readers. This was ten times worse than any Demo Roundup; yeah, I’ve listened to some shitty demos, but this is shitty music on a budget. These clowns can afford technology that makes their music far, far more horrible than any garage band could ever hope for. This was a nauseating bacchanal of badness. This was an all-star
gala tribute to sucking. This was a star-studded, cast-of-thousands fucking historical Roman epic of shit.
I don’t care if they make ten more albums and I get ten thousand e-mails telling me to review them, this is the last time. The last time.
Feel free to e-mail me one of those little memory-erasing things from Men in Black.