January 31, 2008

The Bedlam in Goliath

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The Mars Volta’s musical innovation never comes without a price, whether it be overwrought lyrics or goofy marketing (here, some horsecrap about a Ouija board curse). Predictably, then, the rare high points on their new release, The Bedlam in Goliath (“Aberinkula,” “Ilyena”), are overshadowed by ostentatious drivel. These guys are obviously talented (check out new drummer Thomas Pidgen), and, occasionally, their pristine production and atypical harmonies produce something disturbingly awe-inspiring.
But the band’s stuck in a rut; Frances the Mute (2005) was their best work, and it’s been downhill ever since. Despite shorter and more numerous offerings on this album, variety is scant. Rare moments like “Soothsayer,” where the band experiments with Middle Eastern motifs and choir samples, are the exception rather than the rule. It’s a shame — with so much technical virtuosity and musical vision, you wish they’d turn away from material so hackneyed, morbid and overdone.