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


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 1006 ratings

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3 stars I came into this album with pretty high expectations. After all I was one of the legions of prog fans who was charmed by The Mars Volta's full length debut Deloused In The Comatorium, and many of these guys had also raved about Frances The Mute. However I confess to feeling slightly let-down and distinctly confused ...

Like De-Loused, Frances The Mute has its share of highs and lows, although the ratio here is marginally less impressive. This album is clearly more diverse than its predecessor, and if the whole album was of the quality of the half-hour long piece Cassandra Gemini then I'd recommend it whole-heartedledly. However there are too many ordinary moments here for me to be able to do so.

The frenzied funk of the opener Cygnus ... Vismund Cygnus isn't bad with some nice harmonies, trademark rapid-fire drumming and riffing and a decent chorus, but it was a little too similar to stuff on De-Loused for my liking. It also set a nasty trend on this album of too much low-decibel atmospherics ... although I'd have to say it was within acceptable limits for most of this piece, with a nice crescendo as the whole band came back in, but the last 3 minutes of the 13 minute track is just "noodling".

The second track The Widow is certainly listenable, but is actually "just" a standard blues song in disguise. It too fades into some wierd fairground organ noises that I wouldn't quite describe as music.

The third piece L'via L'viaquez sees a fiery funky opening descend into a laidback psychedelic Latin groove, and the trick is repeated twice. Frankly it's cool for just a little while before it gets tedious. In fact, the third time the Latin groove came back, I was downright annoyed (and that's despite a rather tasty piano solo making its way into the song!).

The fourth track Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore is the ultimate example of what's wrong with this album. There are lots of sounds and hardly any music until about 4 minutes into the piece. Of course, it then turns out to be a brilliant psychedelic mellow tune, with some excellent spacey keyboards, and a rather Gothic mid-section that leads into a powerful driving, almost "battling" passage before some jazzy trumpet lines fade the piece out ... into two more minutes of low-decibel music, although this passage at least has some discernible melodies. Some basic editing would have made this piece a bona fide classic, but as things stand ... it isn't.

Amazingly the concluding epic, the 31 minute long Cassandra Gemini is actually pretty well paced! In fact it might just get my vote for the best epic (more than 15 minutes, let's say) song recorded over the last 25 years! It's got a funky opening with some nice fluttering flute fills and by the 4 minute mark, there are some great attacks going on (with ol' Cedric warbling away tunefully on the top of it). Then an awesome (early) Black Sabbath-like riff takes over, while great drumming holds the next part together, apart that eventually leads into a build-up that includes both organ and flute. At 9 minutes, the piece breaks down into an avant-garde piano section, while by 12 minutes everybody comes back in. There's a powerful string-led interlude before a section in which the guitarist goes arpeggio crazy (but in a pleasing way!). The song then dies down for a while, before returning with some searing (in terms of sound, not the playing ... which is not particularly impressive) organ leads. It then drops down again into an ominous bassy section, with some trippy understated guitar leads gradually making their presence felt. There is a lengthy fade out that sees some heavy-duty saxophone playing before Omar and Cedric return to take the piece home. It's not Supper's Ready or Close To The Edge, but Cassandra Gemini really is something every prog fan should listen to at least once.

In conclusion, I'd just have to repeat my own confused analysis ... I know this album is more progressive and diverse than its predessor and it has some truly awesome moments, yet I don't quite enjoy it as much. Maybe time will clear this one up for me. ... 66% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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