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


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 1006 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars Well, at first listen of this album (had not heard to their debut album before this one), I was strongly taken aback and almost repelled to the point that it took me almost one year to actually gather up the courage to rent this album and give it a second listen. But by the time of this second listen, I had discovered their debut album and their third one Amputechture was announced in the coming weeks. The least I can say, though, is that I will not wait for their fourth album to be released to find out about Amputechture.

Back to this album: far from being flawless, this album seems to sacrifice like its predecessor to the modern trend/fad: obscure and impenetrable artwork, most lyrics publishing absent (or unpunctuated) and a doubtful unexplained concept. With an overlong album (this is almost jam-packed), this is exactly the type of flaws that costs them a full star. Nothing that cannot be corrected rather easily for future endeavours though, because for the rest there are many, many, many, many excellent features on FTM, and their 32-min finale is THE major asset of this album.

But let's start with the start, so we can end with the end (sounds un-Freudian, doesn't it?), and it one disenchanting fact is that the start of the "concept" is not present on this album. The 14+min title track was released on the previewing single and not available here. Sounds like a beginner's mistake doesn't it? And the last track announced as a five-part but really cut out in 8 is rather infuriating and downright sloppy and amateur

Well the album's concept here is of another form of alienation, but fuelled by the shock of one of their collab's drug-related death and a story that he was writing. So I gather, because again not much background and explanation are given as is usual in recent years in terms of concept: an easy way out to try to give depth to it, avoid possible fans to pinpoint unlikely twists and give the fan a reason to interpret the music as they feel. But as this was supposed to be a different concept, and they supposedly got their act together dope-wise, I can only see quite a bit of similarities in the construction of the musical trip at least in the first ten minutes: noisy electronic intro, then all out violence etc.

While their music seems to have refined somewhat, they still rely on extensive passage of RHCP-like violence and systematic use of electronic passages (unlike most I find them actually quite good, but can at times be too lengthy), and most of their typical twists of the debut album are ever-present in the opening Cygnus track. We are given a good clean breath of fresh with a rather straightforward The Widow, which happens to be emotionally (but not musically) the second highlight of the album after the finale. One track however that sticks out like a sore thumb, is the endless Via Viaquez, which starts out interestingly enough but steers off track by the Latino chorus and repeats itself an infuriatingly six or seven times, although the verses and frequent solos ease the pain somewhat. The reverse English/Spanish lyrics to the music is interesting as is the piano finale, which is clearly inspired of Los Jaivas' Parra brothers playing.

Around the halfway mark of the album (and a rather overlong interlude/introduction), comes a rather different Miranda (I think the writer was watching a certain Sex And The City TV-series) coming close to a post rock not far away from Sigur Ros. The main flaw of this track is as post rock goes, it takes forever to develop and even longer to die. This tracks overstays its welcome just as much as Via Viaquez. Then comes the 32- min finale Cassandra where Omar shines like the sun with his brilliant playing where him and Cedric pull a Zep's Planter's Page duo. Although a bit long, the middle section sizzles along quite frantically , almost as mesmerizing as Dazed and Confused could be. Overall this album is not better than its predecessor, strengthening in some departments (especially Omar's guitars), but duplicating some flaws, being over- ambitious (and awkward) in their storytelling, Isaiah being a little less present and incisive than on Comatorium, and Cedric's vocals are less manic.

So this album is one of confirmation, but no real progress or consolidation over its predecessor, so the real test is pushed back to their third album Amputechture, which will become a make or break. Either they move to the superior stage, correct their flaws and pull a real masterpiece or they will eventually stagnate a bit, unable to reach the stratosphere where their illustrious ancestors are desperately awaiting the new guard.

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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