By Paul Neet
When I saw The Mars Volta open for The Red Hot Chili Peppers last summer, a Chili Peppers fan so disliked their music that he chucked a bottle of urine at them mid-song. This is not a band that will appeal to most people, as the weirdness of their third album shows. Songs alternate between tension-building minimalism, guitar-acrobatic explosions, complete chaos, skronky jazz, and white noise. Chief songwriter/arranger Omar Rodgriguez-Lopez crafts intricate guitar and horn parts with the twisted musical complexity of Frank Zappa. Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante plays on most of the album, but his playing bears no resemblance to the melodic beauty of his Chili Peppers work—he pierces and shreds under Rodgriguez-Lopez’s mad-scientist direction.
As on previous albums, the lyrics alternate between high school goth poetry and goofy nonsense (“The kiosk in my temporal lobe is shaped like Rosalyn Carter”), with some Led Zeppelin mysticism thrown in. It’s ridiculous, but damned if Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals don’t sell the hell out of the whole thing. Nonsense aside, there’s a fiery passion in his voice throughout that gives the pyrotechnics an emotional anchor. He runs the gamut from a cracked croon to the kind of castrato banshee wail that makes drunk Chili Peppers fans furrow their brows and ask each other, “Is that a dude or a chick?”
This is dense, difficult stuff, but for those who aren’t afraid of song titles like “Day of the Baphomets” and five-minute Spanish guitar interludes, it’s worth it.