Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute CD (album) cover

FRANCES THE MUTE

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

4.06 | 885 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Gallifrey
4 stars 10 Years On: The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute

I think I have a rather big slice of humble pie to dig into.

There have been some rather negative opinions pointed towards Frances the Mute that have been flung around the internet over the last year or so, many of them coming from my mouth (or fingers, I guess). If this album came up in discussion, I'd immediately jump onto my well- developed 'Deloused, cut in half, and filled to the brim with absolute nonsense' argument, which utterly tore apart those people who enjoyed this album with logic and reason (I hope). And to be honest, I still subscribe to that view a bit, just not so much. To me, this album was the manifestation of Volta going too far, of them losing sight of restraint and subtlety and in the process losing all of their marbles and all of their ability to write a coherent album. 'About twenty minutes of it is really solid, fantastic Mars Volta material', I would often say, pointing at the major song sections of 'Cygnus' and 'The Widow', but when a 30 minute epic has about 12 minutes of real song time, you know you've got problems.

I was so content with this opinion that I didn't even feel like I needed to re-listen to Frances the Mute that much before I gave it a good old 10th anniversary scolding, but I did anyway.

Crud.

I like it.

How embarrassing.

Frances the Mute is a stupid record. In fact, it's borderline moronic, but once you realise that, and accept it, you can truly start to see the fun in its stupidity. And I'm not talking about this being a tongue-in-cheek lelsoquirky album filled with 12 year old humour, attempting to be 'satirical', I'm talking about the way Volta make prog fun without making it cheesy or needlessly self-indulgent (mostly). At times we're laughing with the music, at times we're laughing at the music, and at times they drop that whole charade and put out quite beautiful passages of music, reminding us so eloquently that they aren't a bunch of bumbling retards being laughable on purpose.

I always liked 'Cygnus' Vismund Cygnus', at least a bit. The song has such an loveable charm in the way it goes about its 13 minute duration. Sure, the instrumental parts are a bit too wanky for what they're trying to achieve, and there's that entire section at the end that quite frankly doesn't need to be there, but it's got some hella fun parts. I think this song works so well because of the consistently catchy vocals from Cedric, that manage to be very poppy and therefore very fun, but without running into cringe-inducing over-saturated pop cheese. The main body of the song is so damn catchy that you basically forget how crazy the instruments behind the vocals are. And to be honest, for much of this song they're crazy in a good way as opposed to a bad one. The drumming is as good as drumming will ever get, and the guitars all sort of gel together to form a manic backdrop that actually works for once. And then there's that breakdown after the second chorus. Man, if that isn't a joke segment I don't know what is.

Past me used to say this song was utterly pointless after four minutes. And he's partially right - that two-minute solo at about 5 minutes in is frankly embarrassing, although the idea to break into a moody solo after the mental first few minutes is a good one, and the music behind the solo is pretty nice. The second half of the song does warrant some great moments, mostly courtesy of Cedric, with the entire vocal section of the bridge being one of my favourite parts of the album. Omar does get a bit of messy wanking going before the (admittedly glorious) drop into the chorus, but it's made fantastic by some glorious snare work from Jon Theodore. But I will give past me this - this song is utterly pointless after about 10. Oh yeah sure a nice ambient break with some ~spooky~ field recordings. Genius. Aside from the fact that it leads brilliantly into 'The Widow' it is totally pointless and at least two minutes longer than it needs to be. Still, four minutes of filler in a thirteen minute song isn't that bad? Right?

I always hated 'L'Via L'Viaquez', for various reasons. Never been a fan of latin music, I think it's corny as hell. Never been a fan of prog bands pulling from latin music, it makes the corniness worse. The messy solos here are still too much, and again, this could easily be a lot shorter. Overall, it's still probably the weakest track here, but time has taught me to enjoy it, at least a little bit. The 'ohohoh yeaaahhhhhhh' part before it drops into the weird chorus is absolutely glorious, and counters pretty much every bad part on this song, seeing Cedric hit stadium-rock levels of over-the-top theatricism, complimented perfectly by Theodore's manic snare hitting. The chorus itself is' odd, to put it lightly. It's ceritanly a bit surreal, dropping straight out from latin rock fusion into a piano-led section in a completely different tempo and mood. And then it flies back into the main section with a nice big old wankfest from Omar. The good and bad on this track balance out pretty well, although as it progresses, the bad gets dragged on far more than the good. I mean what on earth was the point in that final chorus section going on for five minutes?

'Miranda That Ghost Just Ain't Holy Anymore', above all of its flaws, is probably the Mars Volta's best track. The band said the entire thing is meant as a homage to western films, particularly the work of Ennio Morricone, and it does come through a bit in the instrumental. After a minute of (garbage) ambience, we get some really nice ambience coming in, setting a scene so unlike any other Mars Volta song - serene, vast, and subtly ominous. The song portion of this track, ie when Cedric is singing, is fantastic. Truly fantastic. The horns are glorious and upfront, the organ and ambience in the background wandering, and Cedric singing with some true soul that many of his ilk go without. The only thing that stops this being flawless is the utterly anticlimactic finish. I love the big reprise of the chorus, but surely Volta could have exploded it a bit more. Eight minutes of build for a 30 second release and four minutes of nonsense ambience.

And I guess I can't review this album properly without mentioning the centrepiece, a 32 minute song arbitrarily split into 8 segments, entitled 'Cassandra Geminni'. And while the wikipedia page does use the word 'arbitrarily' to describe the track splits, I must say they're oh so useful for separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of this song's duration. Because as you can imagine, this is The Mars Volta with a 32 minute song. Less than half of that will be actual song, the rest will be nonsense.

For part of the song at least, it feels like they've tried to structure it pretty well. It would certainly be a great 16-20 minute epic at least, because of the fantastic way they use recurring themes and mood-setting elements. After a ripping intro, we get Cedric with some strange effects introducing the story. Of course, 'the story' is likely meaningless gibberish, but the way it jumps between spoken word sections and sung hooks is reminiscent of the very best classic prog epics, and it's clear they've done their homework on it. The chorus, which shows up in the first track, and later on in the seventh (26 minutes later) is brilliant. A really awesome, memorable, simple hook, that can easily be transitioned back into without much effort, and is simple enough to do some basic referencing from.

The feeling of restraint stays pretty well throughout tracks two and three, with these pretty much feeling like bridges to the first track, with the only real complaint being that track two does drag on a bit long and lose a bit of momentum leading into three. Fantastic horns in track three as well, really excellent stuff. But then truly it starts to lose it a bit. Track four is the longest single part of the epic and is honestly where they lose any restraint. A softer, more subdued section is always needed in the middle of an epic, but eight minutes? That's practically an epic in itself, and listening to Cedric whispering over noodling jazz nonsense isn't exactly enjoyable. The fifth and sixth tracks sadly continue this trend, but while four and five may be wanky messes of bad solos, I actually quite enjoy the free jazz saxiness of number six. If this was the only solo on the song I would be pretty happy with it to be honest, but we know that can't be true. It also gets bonus points for an utterly brilliant transition into the chorus, which after 26 minutes feels like the absolute ultimate release.

And I guess while I'm at talking this album through track-by-track, I'll give a paragraph to 'The Widow'. I also think it is a testament to this album that each track can be discussed so thoroughly, because each is so unique, and 'The Widow' is the token pop song of the record. Similar to 'Televators' from the debut album, this is probably my favourite song here behind the main part of "Miranda". A brilliant contrast to the opening track, this is an emotional ballad about' something, and Cedric's vocal performance is truly one of his best. Honestly, the only thing I dislike about this track is the fact that the verses are too short. The hook of the song is so utterly fantastic, and it regularly feels as if it comes too soon. I mean, this song is basically three minutes long. A three-minute Volta song, and it's one of their best. Come on, they could have pulled that out a bit longer. Also, bonus mention to the utterly garbage last minute of trashy ambience in this song. Somehow it managed to top the closing minutes of 'Cygnus' for pointlessness and break of album flow.

This album is a laugh. Sure, sometimes it pushes beyond that and goes into material that is just stupid as opposed to being funny, but really I was trying to take it far too seriously, and The Mars Volta, at least in this incarnation, are not a serious band. But the best part for me is that they aren't purposely trying to be crazy or wacky or funny, it just flows naturally with their songwriting style. Too many times have I cringed endlessly at bands who think being as manic as possible is how you make technical music, and many of them were undeniably inspired by this record. Those albums feel like little kids laughing hysterically at people on youtube being random, whereas this is a touch more sincere and its comedy is a bit less childish. It still has problems, but the problems are part of its charm. There is definitely still a bit of filler and a few of the solos border too close on meaningless wankery, but I do quite enjoy this album now. And I'm glad for it.

7.8

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 4/5 |

MEMBERS LOGIN ZONE

As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this THE MARS VOLTA review

Social review comments () BETA







Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: JazzMusicArchives.com — jazz music reviews and archives | MetalMusicArchives.com — metal music reviews and archives