Not since the Great Split of 1972 -- when the Jefferson Airplane splintered into Hot Tuna and the Jefferson Starship (and, later, just Starship) -- has debate raged so passionately about the co-existing offspring of a revered band. When At the Drive-In folded its tent in 2001, it spawned two divergent entities: the Mars Volta (aka the two guys with the Afros) and Sparta (aka the other guys). While the former plunged oh-so-anti-commercially into a freaky-deaky prog-punk Abaddon, Jim Ward and his Sparta bandmates have pursued an emo-rock agenda that comes down hard and jaggedly but still wedges fairly easily into a Clear Channel world. And thus the crux of the dispute: Sparta fans regard the Mars Volta as self-indulgent, unlistenable artistes; Mars Volta devotees dismiss Sparta as slick, corporate boot-lickers. The truth, of course, resides well short of those extremes, and it's time to admit that both bands are pretty damn good. Besides, Sparta has yet to deliver anything remotely as odious as "We Built This City."


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