Agony Shorthand

Monday, June 14, 2004
MARS : “78+” CD.....Every year brings a new handful of discoveries from rock’s “back pages” (ahhhhhh), and 2003 was the year that I decided to stop ignoring MARS and tried to listen to them again with a clear noggin. It worked. Those Soul Jazz and Ze Records NYC no wave compilations didn’t hurt – the former contains the mammoth “Helen Forsdale”, taken from the infamous, over-referenced-to-death “No New York” comp; the latter puts up “3-E” and “11,000 Volts” from an early 45. Would you non-believers out there believe me if I said these tracks, and the brief interlude “Puerto Rican Ghost”, were pretty much the sum output of the band’s great moments? Oh, oh, oh I know some of you will liken this to cutting the King of Kings down from his cross. But as I ran through this 1978 “compleat works” CD, which starts bold and strong and skittering with 4 of the tracks referenced here, I went from rhapsodic to vaguely indifferent to bored to friggin' tears pretty quickly. When it’s over, and it doesn't take long, you can’t eject & file it away soon enough. The dark chaos of the later tracks sounds like forced improvisational wank-archy to me, with no jolting presence or any underlying riffage to sustain it like the aforementioned tracks do. Just murky meaningless clanging and ugly moaning in places, instrumentals and general noise “signifying nothing” as they say. A new set of ears might’ve done the trick, but barring that, MARS in their totality does next-to-nothing at all for me, and helps me realize why they’ve been regarded as a footnote by most wags. Anyone beg to differ?