Review: Jack Foley
BEFORE we go any further, it's probably worth pointing out that
The Mars Volta is neither a concept album band nor a prog band.
They excel at both, but Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala
formed The Mars Volta in 2001 in order to dispose of labels and
limitations of any kind, to move beyond genres.
The result is Frances The Mute, the duo's second album,
which arrives like a thunderbolt to really challenge listeners.
The album builds a story around the memory of a dear-departed
friend (much like its predecessor, De-Loused in the Comatorium),
and is inspired by a diary found by late band-mate, Jeremy Ward,
and the similarity of the anonymous author's life to his own.
Or, to let singer/lyricist, Bixler-Zavala explain: "The
diary told of the author being adopted and looking for his real
parents. The names of each song are named after people in the
diary. Each person he meets sort of points him in the direction
of his biological parents."
Adds Omar: "Every work of music or art is going to reflect
your experiences and feelings at the time. This record was obviously
influenced by the trauma of losing Jeremy."
"It's a story of abandonment and addiction," continues
Cedric. "As to whether any of it happened is not certin.
That's something best suited for the listener to figure out. We
can only provide the pieces."
Intrigued? What's more, the album is basically comprised of five
inter-connected songs, which kick off with the trademark Volta
crescendos of opener, Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, before
turning ambient, and then ballad-based, and then exploring the
sound of old Cuba.
It's a riotous epic, a mind-numbing, head-scratching trip into
musical oblivion, that recalls the tripped out psychedelia of
Seventies Pink Floyd at their giddiest - with touches of Zeppelin
and Miles Davis thrown in.
Mars Volta fans will be in seventh heaven; the rest will doubtless
love it or loathe it. But the line between genius and madness
has seldom seemed quite so blurred.
Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, for instance, is a sprawling
epic that builds and builds and builds, much in the same way as
certain Muse tracks do, before giving way into some deeply ambient
The Widow is a ballad of sorts, performed in that inimitable
Mars Volta style.
But the album highlight is the Latino-flavoured exuberance of
L'Via L'Viaquez, which provides a virtuoso moment from
just about everyone involved - from Bixler-Zavalas' en Espanol
vocal and Rodriguez-Lopez' guitar speaking in tongues, to Jon
Theodore's wild drum rolls and Juan Alderete's half-tempo salsa
The track is also notable for featuring guest appearances from
Red Hot Chili Pepper's Flea and John Frusciante - although you
might not notice!
Having reached some a giddy high, however, the rest of Frances
The Mute struggles to distinguish itself, even though the
mixture of styles keep on coming.
But for L'Via L'Viaquez alone, it remains worth having
and is certain to create a talking point for anyone who likes
to be challenged by their musical.
It is arthouse in the extreme but rather like the best independent
creativity, it demands to be heard and forces you to have an opinion
- and that can only be a good thing.
We'd recommend it, but with caution!