The Mars Volta – De-Loused In The Comatorium

Well it’s time to take on more final look at The Mars Volta, with this, their “best” album, according to all the people who tend to use words like “best”:

Not weird enough! We need that guy to be floating in some water with his head becoming this weird jellyfish thing. PERFECT! PRINT IT!

I guess, depending on which version of the album you picked, you get one of two disturbing album covers!

This album was the first release from the newly-formed Mars Volta after the split up of their vastly overrated mother group, At The Drive In. The two guys involved in this group, and the 30 or so musicians they would eventually incorporate, decided that they had to make their music as unpalatable and complicated as possible in order to avoid mainstream success only enough to not have to return to their jobs at Burger King.

I’m sure we all know how well THAT went.

Yeah, despite the band’s best efforts, this album went on to be hugely mainstream, selling in excess of half a million albums, which is about 1/4th of their hipster listening base alone. Good thing they appeal to people who exclusively steal music from the internet, otherwise they might have toppled the charts!

So yeah, the album “sold” really well (eh heh), and to almost anyone I’ve spoken to on the subject, it’s generally said that this is their finest work. Indeed, I will say it’s different from other things they have released, but only in the sense that the utter chaos that this band presents to the listener is actually presented in listenable chunks called “songs”. Indeed, just about every song is distinct and features at least 1 start and 1 stop, which is something the band would not repeat until 7 years later, with the unforgivable Octahedron. Still, in the case of De-Loused, the trick pretty much works, because the songs are actually all distinct, and the limited amount of instrument occupying the musical space made for stuff that actually sticks with listeners between listens.

Really, there is only one distinct thing about this album that piques my interest: it was worked on by no less than 3 people who helped shape, of all people, Johnny Cash’s latter-day music. First we’ve got Rick Rubin, who produced the album in a one-time producing role with the band, then we’ve got two of the members of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea and John Frusciante, who happen to be two talented members of music’s most annoying funk group. It’s hard to imagine musicians that have worked on other things being involved with the Mars Volta, since they sound like they’re from another planet, but I guess there’s this hidden penchant for doing this kind of music hidden in the most unlikely of musicians. I’m thinking, if it’s those 3, heroin must have been involved at some point.

In fact, if the word of a rock star can be believed, this is the one and only Mars Volta album that was inspired by drug use. The story, or “concept”, behind the album is about a guy who tries to overdose on drugs, winds up in a coma, dreams about battling his dark side, wakes up, and throws himself off a bridge. Are these lyrics actually in the music anywhere? I have no idea, I can’t understand what these guys are singing most of the time, and I’ve gone through all the other Mars Volta albums’ writeups without quoting lyrics, and I’ll be dad-blamed if I’m going to do it now.

The point is, this album is fueled by drugs, and drugs would ultimately take away the guy who helped to make so many funny noises throughout the album. This struck the band as a tragedy, even if it didn’t seem to detract from the sound any, and they named their next album (the first one I talked about, Frances The Mute) after the idea of him. It really all came together like one of those after-school specials, only instead of it being a bunch of 12 year olds doing piles of drugs and then learning a valuable lesson with no jail time, it’s The Mars Volta.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t really see how this is their “best” album. I will say it’s short at only just over an hour (still twice as long as most of my favorites), but what is it that separates this one from something like The Bedlam In Goliath? Is it because only a handful of musicians are present in the recording, thus making it less dense and unapproachable as the subsequent albums? Is it because of the almost complete lack of 15 minute tracks of water dripping and birds calling? Is it the lack of 15 minute songs in general, besides “Cicatriz ESP”?

I’m not too sure, myself. After listening to all 5 albums many, many times (ok not Octahedron, I listened to that crap twice), I have come to the ultimate conclusion that The Mars Volta’s albums all sound alike. I’m really not too bad at telling music apart either, I will fight to the death pointing out myriad differences between Radiohead and Muse or between Gentle Giant albums or even Johnny Cash albums, but with The Mars Volta, who are one of my favorite new bands, by the way, I just can’t put my finger on it. It could very well be the “singing parts” versus the “instrumental parts”, which are more balanced on this album than elsewhere, or perhaps it’s that the album is less complex than its would-be usurpers, but I still insist that the best parts of the subsequent albums all rival the entirety of De-Loused In The Comatorium in both quality and length.

Perhaps it’s that, like Flea and John Frusciante and whoever else, everyone else is tuned into the certain something that makes The Mars Volta sound like it does, and I, a lowly music fan, just can’t get my mind wrapped around it. If so, good job, music fans of the world, I’ve been writing about albums for 280 days now, but you were the ones who had it figured out all along!

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6 Responses

  1. Good ol’ Storm Thorgerson (the artist behind the cover art) and his ever increasing insanity. His covers are striking and instantly recognizable though, no question about that.

  2. Ha ha actually I like the covers, they’re ridiculous and I love that the guy’s name is STORM

  3. I’m not going to say they’re bad – and his cover for Muse’s Uprising single is absolutely brilliant in every way – but you can tell the guy is very crazy. He’s done most of the Pink Floyd covers, if you’re curious, some for Muse, and a whole bunch of other stuff. He’s one of the few cover artists who is really easy to spot.

  4. oh no, I didn’t mean they were bad, just ridiculous like “over the top”. Actually you’ve got me interested now, I’m going to check out his other work!

  5. I thought I accidentally implied they were bad, egad!

    He’s actually one of my photography/design heroes, especially with his seriously insane ambition with some shoots.

  6. This was my introduction to The Mars Volta. It was terribly different- at first listen I couldn’t make it through the second song (third track). It just blew my brain open. After repeated attempts later, I found myself digesting the entire thing. I also found, that once you’re in The Mars Volta’s little make-believe universe, in which they’re songs are the norm and their lyrics make sense, all other music seems dull and uniform in comparison.
    I was about to go to college while I was obsessively going through the lyrics trying to make sense of them. Night, by Elie Wiesel, was my college’s introductory “common experience” book. If you don’t know, it’s the true story of a Jewish man’s (then a boy) journey through a concentration camp.
    With those lingering images in my head, Deloused in the Comatorium’s story began to present itself to me, in small pieces, but I was certain the album was one giant conceptual metaphor for something- and it was using the imagery of a concentration camp to express whatever it was that was meant to be said.
    The title of the album seemed to confirm it well enough. More and more through the lyrics it picked at it. Leeches train the living. Everyone knows the last toes are always the coldest to go. I am of pockmarked shapes, the vermin you need to loathe. Now I’m lost.
    It never really fully made sense, but it always felt like it was the band’s most emotional album, and to me it was coherent- if only in an abstract sense.

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