The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta

Glossy, up-front and draped in energy...

The Mars Volta was always a mean of rebellion, a vessel for side-stepping expectations. Forged by brothers-at-arms Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, they became known for wild solos and even wilder haircuts, blending progressive music, sci-fi drenched lyricism, and genre-less improvisation. This new album – self-titled – is their first in a decade, and it spins the dials once more. In perhaps the ultimate act of rebellion, The Mars Volta have gone… pop.

Perhaps their most direct and open record yet, ‘The Mars Volta’ feels like those seminal Peter Gabriel hits, or even early 80s electro funk. Bold, dynamic, and colourful, it’s riddled with hidden complexities, most notably in its lyrics, which eschew the fantasy of old for sheer autobiography. If those themes of paranoia, abuse, and survival cut close to the bone, then that’s kinda the point – they’re informed by the struggles Cedric’s family have had with the Church of Scientology.

‘Blacklight Shine’ sets out the stall from the off – glossy, up-front and draped in energy, it feels almost confrontational in its sheen. ‘Graveyard Love’ and ‘Shore Story’ expand on this, stretching the pop-edged sheen until breaking point, like a sheet of plastic pulled out to something translucent, the colours distorted to lysergic levels.

Yet for all its dynamic nature, the material here is dominated by elements of complexity. The lyrics turn on a pin’s head, the legal issues with the Scientologist group pushing the songs towards more general themes of paranoia and control. It’s tempting to view this through a political lens, too – a record made in the aftermath of the Trump Presidency, with its visuals illustrating the horrors of American imperialism on the people of Puerto Rico.

Songs such as ‘Fresh Burns From Flashbacks’ point to the lingering impact of trauma, yet tackle it in such an electrifying, and distinctive way. ‘Palm Full Of Crux’ feels like a real high point in terms of emotional intensity, but also in terms of its aesthetic elasticity. 

Closing with the taut – a touch over two minutes – of ‘Collapsible Shoulders’, the record then concludes with ‘The Requisition’. Little on here stretches beyond the four minute mark, with The Mars Volta opting for brevity and precision, over the excess of old. Yet perhaps that’s where the challenge lies, both to themselves and their audience – in hitting reset, The Mars Volta have hit upon an incredibly surprising new phase in their multi-faceted evolution.


Words: Robin Murray

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.