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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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4 stars A wild rollercoaster ride of an album - that's the best way to describe The Mars Volta's second effort, "Frances the Mute". It has all the ingredients of a classic prog record: lengthy tracks (the closing "Cassandra Geminni" clocking in at 32'), a 'concept' behind it that can be only termed as weird, suitably obscure lyrics (a good half of them in Spanish), an elegant Storm Thorgerson cover, music that crosses all possible boundaries, blending metal, punk, prog, Latin influences, free jazz and psychedelia to create a unique whole.

However, as others have observed before me, the album misses being a 5-star masterpiece mainly because of an excess of noise that makes some parts rather harrowing to listen. This use of electronic noises reminds me sometimes of Pink Floyd (besides the obvious Thorgerson connection), though the English band have always been a touch more restrained in this respect. When The Mars Volta actually play, they do it very well, and the contribution of such special guests as Flea and John Frusciante is nothing short of excellent (listen to the latter's two blistering solos in "L'Via L'Viaquez") - so, why include so much filler? The noises are what turn most people off the album, which is a real pity.

The highlights of the album are the opening "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus", introduced by a slow acoustic passage (which also closes the album) which leads the way to a fully-fledged electric barrage punctuated by Cedric Bixler-Zavala wailing, though amazingly expressive vocals, and the Latin-flavoured "L'Via L'Viaquez", which blends furious riffing with slower, salsa-tinged sections. "The Widow", by far the most listener-friendly track on the album (though not my favourite), is a modern take on a bluesy torch song complete with mournful trumpet. That leaves "Miranda" and "Cassandra Geminni", which feature the most noise and are as such harder to take as a whole. However, I quite like the latter's closing section,with its reprise of the initial "Sarcophagi".

I think "Frances the Mute" should be recommended as a brilliant, though flawed, example of modern progressive rock. It's not something you can put in the background: you really have to listen to it, and all too often this is definitely 'uneasy' listening - but the good parts are outstanding. I, for one, must admit I'm looking forward to the band's development in years to come.

Raff | 4/5 |


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