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The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 1007 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
1 stars Like many, I found The Mars Volta's first album 'De-Loused In The Comatorium' to be quite a surprise for the somewhat stagnant modern world of prog. Though unable to reach the heights of 70s giants, there were several factors on that record which came together successfully - the endlessly inventive guitar playing, the wailing slingshot vocals, and the lyrical soups brewed by what sounds like medical students who listened to prog and watched sci-fi when they should have been researching for exams. There was a feeling here of a band with great potential, and it is too difficult not to compare their second album directly with the first... not that a clone would be expected or at all welcome, but rather I would hope the spirit of the first recording would return to flourish on 'Frances The Mute'.

Unfortunately, I don't feel their follow-up strikes anywhere near the mark. Most of the things a listener would initially think was wrong with De-Loused, but were overcome by really studying the album, actually ARE wrong with 'Frances The Mute'. Small ideas seem totally over-stretched throughout the album, gone are the complex changes and the feeling of constant restructuring within single pieces. Cedric's previously extraterrestrial singing stays within a relatively safe (for him) range, no longer seeking out obscure and embedded melodies within and around the song, making him pretty much indistinguishable from most other whiny heavy rock/punk vocalists. The lyrics are, however, again quite interesting in the same abstractly poetic fashion as De-Loused, but there is a definite sense this time that more thought went into the words for their own merits alone, rather than how they might marry with or be elevated by the music. In this way, almost all vocal delivery on the album sounds incidental. The clichťd flash guitar soloing of guest John Frusciante also features quite heavily, especially on 'L'Via L'Viaquez', and is quite frankly pedestrian in comparison to the unique Rodriguez-Lopez and adds nothing positive here.

A widespread criticism of this record is the presence of extended atmospheric/instrumental sections, but for me these are among the most successful elements and capture some strong moods, occasionally also forming well-paced preludes to larger pieces such as 'Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore' (probably the best piece on the album). By far the greatest let down of all, though, is the production quality. Even though Rodriguez-Lopez is no doubt playing as many layers of guitars as on their first album, here all of that detail is lost through bad balancing and EQ... and every prolonged 'heavy' passage sounds like the same wash of distorted guitar riffing. Even the wider range of instruments used makes little impression, since each of them seem to occupy the same dull frequency range. The intricate effects and melodies only stand a chance of getting through on the few quieter parts. This is a crime, and perhaps the crippling blow to an album that could have been much better if the distinctiveness of these interesting musicians had a chance to shine through.

Not good enough for the discerning progger, and unlikely to enter a regular playlist.

ThulŽatan | 1/5 |


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