Mars Volta, The - Frances the Mute

Do you have any mates your age that are Pink Floyd fans? They're a weird mob those guys, especially the really hard core Floyd fans. (The ones that feel after Syd Barret left them they became too ‘commercial' and ‘accessible'…and spitting out those last two words as though they are a bad thing).


I have a few friends who are Floyd fans and I've often wondered if they would have liked Pink Floyd's albums if they'd heard them as they were released or whether they simply force themselves to love the band because they are considered ‘important' artists. (like, for example, Bowie albums that people buy to decorate their CD racks because it gives them cred.) Would these fans have loved Atom Heart Mother the day it was released or would they have bought it because some guy who smelled of herbs told them to, to then simply discard it as weird?


Now I understand that readers are shaking their heads to be reading my spiel on Floyd when they thought they were scanning a simple review of a new band. What I'm simply trying to say is that The Mars Volta are this generation's Pink Floyd.


It's hard to write a review for something like this album in one night. On first listen you know it's good, and better than their first album, because it is smoothed out, and more accessible. However, you can't tell how quite how good it is, because you're scared to commit an opinion this early on, only for Frances the Mute to stand the test of time and prove you wrong. All you can say for sure is that it feels like an important album.


Not to harp on the same point, but comparisons to Pink Floyd are going to be all over every review you read for this album, so you might as well get them here first. It is an album in the truest sense of the word. Though comprised of four or five sections, each dividable into five ‘movements', on first listen you'd be forgiven for thinking it was simply one really long, really complex song.


It doesn't float along, like so many albums in this style do, (Sigur Ros, Mum) but rolls. It's more rocky, and less ambient than it's electronica counterparts. It's not something you'd put on and drift off to sleep to, but something you could listen to whilst going for a long walk, collar turned up against the cold, on a dark winter's day.


There are a lot of things in these five songs that work very, very well. Like ridiculously obscure poetry recited in Spanish first then English is one example, and the inclusion of Spanish horns and Latin drumming another.


There are moments throughout the movements where the band rise above the haze of ambience to present some really solid guitar/vocal work, albeit for only three or four seconds before receding back into a wall of sound.


If Frances The Mute is Mars Volta's answer to Wish You Were Here then The Widow, at 5 minutes something, is easily this album's answer to Floyd's famous title track. At first, second, and third listen, The Widow is the only track that is radio friendly and the only one that comes close to following any form of traditional song structure.


The rest of the album is exactly that. An album. The songs blend seamlessly into one another, forming a space rock soundscape that you can just let wash over you. Sounding hippy yet? There are no songs on this album that you will talk to your mate about at the bar ("Christ mate, the ‘Plant A Nail In The Navel System' movement in the Cassandra Geminni piece really gets me going" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue) but it is an album that you will talk about.


Frances The Mute, by The Mars Volta is still a hard album to listen to. Like reading War and Peace, you know that this record is good and artistically sound and you should get into it, but that doesn't make it easy to comprehend. Ultimately though, spend enough time with it and you might be one day telling kids to buy it…

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