The Mars Volta – Qué Dios Te Maldiga Mí Corazón

The Mars Volta – Qué Dios Te Maldiga Mí Corazón

The Mars Volta are responsible for one of the greatest debut albums of all time. 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium is a concept album to rival any of the classics. It’s a goosebump inducer from start to finish, a Rick Rubin produced musical triumph. That record played a huge part in my musical journey and along with Porcupine Tree’s Stupid Dream and In Absentia albums played a tangible role in me opening my mind, ears and ultimately my heart to all things progressive. I’ve enjoyed all of the band’s output over the years, so I was excited when they returned after a ten year hiatus with last year’s comeback album, the eponymous The Mars Volta.

A press release for that album stated that the album contains only “two tracks longer than four minutes”, marking a shift away from the band’s progressive rock sound and into sonic territory marked by “more subtle touches and Caribbean rhythms”. To my tastes the comeback album just wasn’t distinctive enough, songs blurred into one another a little and there was a lounge/background music feeling that pervaded. Even after multiple listens, those songs never quite got their hooks into me in the way the rest of the band’s back catalogue had.

The album I’m actually reviewing is an acoustic re-recording of the comeback record, so I’m almost having to review both records by default. Doing this allows me to not only discuss the music itself for the uninitiated but to also talk about the comparative merits of the 2022 and 2023 versions for those who might already know last year’s offering.

Last year’s release wasn’t the band becoming Dua Lipa, it was more like them shifting into Mercury Rev or Beck territory almost, but with some modern sensibilities alongside the art pop leanings. It didn’t have quite enough melodic hooks to truly move them into pop territory, while at the same time some of the magic of what went before had been lost, so they kind of ended up in musical limbo. The Mars Volta LP was a solid, but ultimately slightly forgettable album. A bit like the later Foo Fighters albums, competent but quite often not very memorable. Enjoyable to listen to but you won’t really have the overwhelming urge to return to it on multiple occasions.

As I mentioned, this wasn’t as big a shift in sound as, say, Chris Cornell’s Timbaland produced Scream album, but like that record I had a real interest in how these songs might work with a different approach. There was enough to like on this band’s eponymous album to make me think that an acoustic reworking could really make these songs sing. And the title, which translate to ‘May God Curse Your Soul’, was an interesting one too.

When I started to really dig into each track I got a sense of whether the acoustic approach was the Midas touch after all. Palm Full of Crux takes on a new life in this version and adds the kind of extra touches I was really hoping for. Shore Story, on the other hand, loses what I liked about it and feels even more like something you’d hear in a post-dinner bar. Maybe I’m just not tuned in to the jazzier vibe they are aiming for here. After going back over my notes after multiple plays I realised that in essence, the less interesting songs on the original album seem to improve and the stronger ones seem to be weakened by this approach. A deluxe 50/50 version of the fourteen songs might be the best possible version of this record, at least for my tastes, but I guess I can make that a playlist myself (sorry purists).

I applaud the band for wanting to change and grow, especially after so many changes to their line-up and also the central relationship that drives the band. I guess I just preferred their older stuff and loved that pitch-perfect debut album so much that this just left me a little bit cold and underwhelmed. I pinned all my hopes on the acoustic reworking elevating this album to new heights. Instead it made me realise this is a good set of recordings by a great band, and that’s OK, even if it doesn’t quite float my boat enough. I don’t think this album does enough to make you like these songs if you didn’t before, but if you did like them already this has the feel of a more polished and produced ‘MTV Unplugged’ record without the live appeal. The band is showing their Latin roots here, but that doesn’t seem to be to my tastes.

Modern pop is short, well produced songs which are vocally driven with the music there to underpin the singing. My teenage daughter can’t stand long intros as a result of this shift in the musical landscape. This album is modern in that way, we’re into vocals quickly, they are the focus, and in fairness they have a distinctive and talented singer to lean into. For me though, that’s just not enough music for my tastes . My favourite parts are specific bits of singing rather than what the other instruments are doing, and that’s rare. Interesting, but like the acoustic version it doesn’t feel like it will stay with me.

01. Blacklight Shine (2:58)
02. Graveyard Love (3:43)
03. Shore Story (3:22)
04. Blank Condolences (3:28)
05. Vigil (3:35)
06. Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazón (1:52)
07. Cerulea (3:54)
08. Flash Burns from Flashbacks (3:28)
09. Palm Full of Crux (3:41)
10. NoCaseGain (2:49)
11. Tourmaline (3:29)
12. Equus 3 (3:52)
13. Collapsible Shoulders (2:38)
14. The Requisition (4:33)

Total Time – 47:22

Omar Rodríguez-López – Guitar, Flute, Production, Engineering
Cedric Bixler-Zavala – Vocals
Marcel Rodríguez-López – Keyboards, Mellotron, Piano, Additional Percussion, Mixing
Eva Gardner – Double Bass
Daniel Diaz – Percussion
Leo Genovese – Piano

Record Label: Clouds Hill
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 21 st April 2023

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