Frances The Mute
By: Eric Greenwood
The Mars Volta's pretentiousness is so all consuming one can't help but laugh. The artwork for both its albums has been absurdly tacky, ghastly even. The song titles are equally absurd, mining the dregs of some deviant imaginary sci-fi prog-rock opera that should never be made. And the music… Everything about the band reeks of desperation to be taken seriously, yet nothing it does is by accident.
Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have deserted any hints of their post-hardcore past with At The Drive In. By contrast, The Mars Volta is a pro-tooled monster, replete with Bixler's borderline castrato vocals, hammering percussion, garish prog-rock theatrics, and Rodrigez-Lopez's updated Jimmy Page impersonation (with a whiff of Santana thrown in for street credibility). It's an impressive behemoth, overwhelming in its stop turn dynamics and gratuitous in its over the top histrionics.
On 2003's De-loused in the Comatorium, The Mars Volta soared above all the ugly pretension with jaw-dropping musicianship, memorable hooks, and relentless intensity. The album succeeded in showing up its detractors with a great batch of songs. All the nitpicky complaints about lyrical silliness, gaudy artwork, and superfluous self-indulgence were moot when put up against the album's sheer ferocity and melodic sheen.
The follow-up, Frances the Mute, lends credence to all the detractors' arguments simply because the songs are not as strong. Not even by a long shot. This album is dazzling musically, but it has no legs. There are no memorable songs here, and I've tried to find them through repeated listens. The ridiculously outlined five-song structure notwithstanding, Frances the Mute is impossible to follow. It's a muddled mess of nonsense and pretension out of control.
Everything that was great about De-Loused in the Comatorium is blatantly absent, while all of the negatives now protrude like barnacled tumors. Bixler's complicated, multi-tracked vocals still fly high above the den of electronic drizzle, and Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar solos will easily floor any guitar aficionado, but it's all show and no substance. There's no emotional engagement whatsoever, barring the cryptic balladry of "The Widow." Even as countless patches of brilliance flash by, The Mars Volta is too consumed with its nonsensical thematic sham to write a decent song.