What a disappointment the Mars Volta is turning out to be. The band’s ambitious full-length debut, 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium, fused a range of disparate influences into an all-too-rare combination of brains, balls, talent, direction and originality. The band has been spinning its wheels ever since. It has become increasingly clear how large a role De-Loused producer Rick Rubin played in crafting that epic. With last year’s Frances the Mute and now Amputechture, both produced by the band’s virtuoso guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, this band that once seemed so vital has regressed into self-parody.
The album’s relative highlight, the seventeen-minute “Tetragrammation,” begins with an interesting Mahavishnu Orchestra-style riff before returning to the same styles Rodriguez-Lopez has employed countless times on the earlier efforts. The track is peculiarly unfocused, jumping into totally different sections, several of which showcase the band’s ability to create some of the most pummeling grooves in rock, before ending abruptly to explore a different direction.
Perhaps the seemingly arbitrary changes wouldn’t be so irritating if they weren’t cutting short the times where the band actually seems to be maturing. It’s boggling when a band with the patience for five-minute wispy ambient nothingness abandons its richest grooves and occasional staggeringly good guitar lines. The Mars Volta has become the hyperactive kid in the classroom, spacing out for extended periods of time then snapping to with insightful observations that so excite him he can’t finish one thought before moving on to the next.
It’s sad to see a band that touts itself as experimental sounding like a watered-down, unfocused version of its younger self. Is the band’s signature style, showcased so brilliantly on its debut, all the Mars Volta is capable of? Has the artistic freedom earned by De-Loused‘s success ensnared it in a world of sycophants and blind loyalists, creating the unjustifiable hubris its shown since? With the band’s massive imagination, intelligence and musical talent, it’s difficult to witness self-indulgence smothering its progress. If it is ever to fully realize its potential, the Mars Volta needs the kind of snap-out-of-it slap that only a strong outside influence can provide. Anybody know Rick Rubin’s phone number?