The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta.

When Cedric & Omar decided to smash At The Drive In into a jagged mish-mash of broken band parts & start again, many wondered if the boys had been looking after their marble collection in accordance with the instructions for usage issued by the manufacturer. They had taken their band out of Texas & had almost conquered the rock world on their own terms – was this really the right time to throw in one respective towel & buy another newer, fluffy one? A tragic death in their tight-knit community only succeeded in providing the group with further impetus in their quest to bring the genres ‘Punk’, ‘Dub’ & ‘Progression’ into a relevant sentence for the first time.

When The Mars Volta dropped “De-Loused In The Crematorium”, many people deliberately looked the other way & muttered words like: ‘conceptual?’ - ‘Flea?’ - & ‘Led Zeppelin?’ The ‘serious’ rock press went just a little bit overboard - putting many off in the process. After all, a small, highly motivated, covert unit of dedicated activists had only just completed the ritual burning of hundreds of thousands of unwanted Santana LPs left over from the late 70s – surely their valiant work was not to be in vain.

And so, somewhat belatedly (hype notwithstanding), we finally got bored enough to usher The Mars Volta into the Bunker & dug out the thesaurus in anticipation. The 1st thing we noticed was just how easy it was to utterly hate on 1st hearing: changing time signatures, jazz inflections, melt-down jams, ridiculous lyrics (i.e. they make The Manic Street Preachers read like James Elroy – regardless of who’s died) & heartfelt pretentiousness of a clinical nature. Too many nights spent studying a Complications Of Intricacy course at El Paso Technical College.

Anyway, as I say, that was the first listen – surely it could never sound that bad twice? We stuck it on again – once more into the breach – once more into the valley of death – once more it sucked. It was too intense to deal with in one lump – there just had to be a better way.

So, we saw them live - & fuck me if that didn’t change everything: At The Drive In were one of the most visually exciting rock n roll groups in many years & it was (if the truth be known) the sight of their radical afro-ed glory on the cover of the NME & the MC5 referencing intensity of “Relationship Of Command” that kick-started the current trend for relevant rock n roll – not 5 rich kids from NYC. Live The Mars Volta make absolute sense absolutely. You are immersed, captivated – a prisoner to fortune & great hair. Iconic acceptance of a defined deity. The rest is easy.

And it is for that reason - & that reason alone – that we return to “De-Loused In The Crematorium” again & again & again. Time is a great healer - healing breeds forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to acceptance, which subsequently releases empathy & a greater understanding of the complex nature of the art that spins under the lazer to your left (or right – depending on where you sit). Any rock n roll record produced by the mighty Rick Rubin has got to be worth a listen – right?

I’m not going to bore you with the ins & outs of “De-Loused In The Crematorium”. It would take a month of intensive scientific study to translate the titles – yet alone the lyrics. All you need to know is that Cedric & Omar are PUNX - & that their hearts are in exactly the right places. If you loved “Relationship Of Command” you’ll learn to love “De-Loused In The Crematorium” too. The hooks may have gone - replaced by themes – but can you imagine anything rising out of the ashes of At The Drive In that wasn’t FUCKING INTENSE? Thought not.

Apparently Everett True hates The Mars Volta as much as the NME, Q, Bang, The Sunday Times, The Observer & Kerrang love them – make of that what you will. In a world drowning in insincere music - the deaf man is king. In an industry populated by nonces – integrity rises to the surface. The fact that The Mars Volta absolutely refuse to play the industry’s game & have started a whole new ball game of their own is only to be applauded. At The Drive In split when they were in danger of becoming too popular – they’re not going to make an AC/DC tribute LP now, are they?

Cedric & Omar are clever boys – probably far cleverer that you or I. They have thrown down a gauntlet – the challenge is: up the intellectual stakes before it’s too late. Implied intelligence is the new bright. Time has moved inexorably onwards – but anger will always be power.

Sometimes it even still feels like music can change things in the minds of Omar & Cedric - & who are we to argue. Things change. Things stay the same. Things change back again. Some things don’t.

See, it’s not really that difficult - after all.

Marquee Smith – tMx11 – 09/03
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