How do you describe the ever-shifting paradox known as The Mars Volta? Well, I'll do my best. Picture a kid with ADD. This kid (let's call him Bobby, for sake of argument) is incredibly smart and gifted. When he sets his mind to doing something, he does it extremely well. However, every so often Bobby starts mumbling incoherent phrases, humming a tune that is frighteningly off-key, and drooling. That's the Mars Volta.
Frances The Mute is an odd album. It seems to want to set a mood for itself, but isn't quite sure what mood to set. It wants to be brilliant, but its mind keeps wandering from obscure subject to subject. It tries to make important discoveries, but often ends up running around aimlessly. It has the potential to be the most creative album ever, but repeatedly falls on its face. So how can you begin to review an album as insane as Frances The Mute, or even try and understand it?
I'll do my best.
The album starts fairly harmlessly with Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus. The song starts with a quiet acoustic part, complimented by Cedric’s beautiful vocals. So far, there's nothing that suggests what is about to happen to this beautiful opening. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. The rest of the band seems to just pop out of nowhere, and they all seem to want to outplay each other. There's simply too much going on at once, and nothing comes together cohesively. The guitar line goes nowhere, and seems to just wander aimlessly. And the lyrics don’t help the coherency of the song any. If you thought the last album was hard to understand, this time it's absolutely impossible, with lines like "My nails peel back, when the taxidermist ruined, goose stepped the freckling impatience. All the brittle tombs, five hundred little q's, I'm splitting hairs to match the faces". Um... Ok... Thanks for those words of wisdom, Mars Volta.
The chorus at 2:19 is one of the highlights of the song, as is carries just enough emotion and brilliance without seeming like a cosmic mess. Afterwards, the song seems to repeat itself for another minute before breaking into what might be the most annoying part of the whole album, the breakdown section. It sounds like Bobby is having a seizure, kids. Around four minutes in, the song starts to slow down with a bit of what The Mars Volta love best, guitar noodling! The song doesn't do a lot anything for three minutes, which grows tiring after a while. When Cedric finally re-enters at almost seven minutes in, it's sweet relief, especially because this vocal section is another standout section of the song. Cedric's wails may annoy some, but they fit the style of the song well.
Well, the song sounds like it's about to end, and it's about time, at almost eight minutes. But wait! The song's not done yet! In fact, the chorus is continuing again! What? Even worse, afterwards, the last three and a half minutes aren't even music, but random ambience and samples of yelling moms and cars! It sounds like the band doesn’t want to end the song, and are trying desperately to stretch the song even longer then it needs to be. These guys need to learn that length doesn't matter (except maybe to girls).
After 13 long minutes, the first track finally ends, and we are treated to the first single, The Widow. This probably could have been the best track on the album. The song is only six minutes, which is short by TMV standards. The first three minutes are pure genius, and may be one of the best ballads I’ve ever heard. The emotion is so raw and uncompromising, and it doesn't feel fake at all, even if I can’t tell what the heck he's saying. If the song was simply three minutes long, I would consider this one of the greatest tracks I've ever heard. However, the song goes on for another three minutes, and these three minutes aren't even of actual music. It's three minutes of weird sci-fi noises, accompanied with an obviously out-of-tune organ. Stop now, TMV. You can't have half of your song not be actual music and expect me to consider you geniuses. The song just goes on, and on, and on, until...
L'via L'Viaquez, which doesn't get started for forty seconds. Anyways, when the song actually starts, it’s a nice fun Spanish rock song. And for two minutes, you start having a lot of fun. The chorus at 2:40 carries a salsa tune, and the whispering helps add another dimension to the song. However, when the chorus ends, the song starts to repeat itself again, doing the exact same thing again. Another lesson from the Mars Volta: in order to make songs better, repeat till the audience is bored of it. After another chorus, the song, like many songs on Frances, goes nowhere for an immeasurable amount of time. In fact, the last four minutes could basically have been cut down to one minute. Again, a strong song, but it just goes on for far too long without accomplishing anything new.
Unlike other song on the album, which take way too long to end, Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore takes far too long to begin. In fact, for the first four minutes, it's nothing but creepy ambient noises progressively getting louder. At over four minutes in, the song finally starts to carry a tune, with a horn and quiet guitars setting a haunting mood. Everything sounds good, until Cedric enters. While before I said his high voice fit with the songs, this time it sounds like he's trying to break some vocal chords. His voice sounds painfully strained, like he ruptured some vital part of his vocal chords the day before, or he was chain smoking while recording the song. After a bit of repeating the verse and chorus, the song once again tries to set a mood halfway through. This time, it kinda works, as there's some actual musical content to here. The song begins to build up to the chorus, but this time the drums have been added, and the song becomes a crazy rockout fest. When the song starts to end, around the nine minute mark, a calming horn guitar start to wind the song down, and the song gets quieter and quieter, until... Dammit! They did it again! Another minute of total ambience! However, the song starts to build up again, with an eerie repeat of a section from the first track, setting a tone of mystery. Finally, it starts to get louder, until...
Cassandra Gemini... Ok, that's it. Whatever I said about the last four tracks going on for too long, I take it all back. THIS track goes on too long. But it's hard not to go on too long, when you have a 30-FREAKING MINUTE SONG!! Well, this song is divided into eight tracks, so at least I can skip between parts if I feel like it. Part I starts off even more chaotic than Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus. However, it gets much better after the first minute and a half. In fact, this is actually one of the most solid tracks on the album, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. The chorus of "No there’s no light, in the darkest of your furthest reaches” is another standout sections on the album. It just fits so well with the mood. Part I flows nearly seamlessly into Part II, which begins which a psycadelic guitar solo. Cedric’s vocals are good once again, and there's not really anything wrong with the beginning of the track. The problem is, even though it’s all solid musically, not a whole lot interesting happens. In fact, if you listen to Part I, and then immediately listen to Part III, you'll hear that Part II could basically have been totally cut out without much of an effect on the song, or the album. This is another one of the Mars Volta's main flaws. They forget that adding length just for the sake of adding length does not make their music better. It’s a lesson someone desperately needs to teach them.
Part III is another one of the more solid musical parts of the album. It's only three minutes long, and it’s basically a slow buildup of atmosphere by Cedric’s vocals and the insane music. The song continues to build up for the first two and a half minutes, and then slowly builds down to Part IV, which is possibly one of the worst sections of the song, as it's the longest segment, but one of the ones in which the least actual music happens. Let's just skip that one. Oh, wait, Part V is the exact same, only it's only five minutes. Jeez, is this song ever going to end? This track has even less music then Part IV, so we’ll skip it too. Part VI finally starts to build up the song again, only the buildup seems to be just a chaotic mix of unfinished ideas and random notes. Finally, around 1:40, the song begins to regain some order, although it quickly loses ditches it for some experimental jazz stuff. Around three minutes in, Cedric FINALLY returns, to add some structure to this otherwise chaotic mess of a track.
Well, the end is in sight, with only two tracks left, and both are under one minute long. Part VII is the chorus from Part I, with a few minor changes. For once, repeating old material works for the Mars Volta, and they manage to pull off a classy repeated chorus. Finally, Part VIII is, strangely enough, the opening acoustic part of Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus, but with some notable changes. In the first track, Cedric was basically whispering the lyrics. This time, he seems to be crying them out. As well, there seems to be some odd ambient noises going on in the background, adding to the mysterious feel of the already mysterious album. Finally, the album laboriously has come to an end.
What can I say about this album? It's a very hit-and-miss deal. Parts of the album will make you cry, and others will make you start getting angry at the length. The Mars Volta are either absolutely brilliant, or they are absolutely insane. This album shows so much potential, but, in the end, is simply bogged down by too much excess fat. The Mars Volta try to do too much at once, and end up creating an album that both shines brilliantly and fails outright. Love it or hate it, Frances The Mute is one of the most bizarre albums of the 21st century, and will stick in your brain, for better or for worse.
Yeah, well, fanboys, don't get mad. I don't hate TMV (In fact, I am quite a fan of De-loused), I just thought that with all the brilliant reviews of Frances The Mute, someone ought to show the other side of the album. No flaming, please.
Other then that, It was nice to write a less-than-positive review about an album. A nice change from the norm.
You obviously don't get the mars volta or this album. The ambient sections are only to build up tension for the next song, and it makes said song even more enjoyable than it already is. This album is very diverse, but it manages to keep a constant theme throughout.
Although i don't agree with many points of your review, this is a good review and gets my vote.
Well, as hilarious those opening few lines are, I have to disagree with you. They add textures to their music to add to the overall experience of their music, etc. Good review though, this is easily their worst album, so say what you want about it. Too much concept, not enough execution.
"You obviously don't get the mars volta or this album. "
And I apologize for a fellow fans misguided thoughts and comments.This Message Edited On 08.29.06
embroglio, I actually do get the album, better than you may think. I don\'t really think the ambience builds up tension, in fact I believe that it kinda lets all the tension go. In Deloused, I thought the ambient noises were used well, but here, they were just kinda overused.
Muisee, that \"Too much concept, too little execution\" is my exact view on the album. They seem to have so many good ideas, but they try to combine all these ideas at the same time, and it ends up often over-cluttered with ideas.
Hep Kat, I agree I was a bit harsh at points, but I wasn't really trying to be funny (except for certain parts). I guess I could have gone a bit easier on them in points. Maybe an edit later or something.This Message Edited On 08.29.06
Well... the "Ambience" in this album is generally shit, and i'm quite a big Mars Volta fan, really. They should have cut it all out. I love the first track on here, and The Widow. Also, L'via is a good track that gets dragged on too long towards the end, theres nothing wrong with the song "repeating" in any way, the solos are all different, it's just the end that goes on for too long. Not to mention the first segment of Miranda (The ballad part) is really good if you forget about the 4 minutes of nothing at the begining. I do really enjoy sgments of the latter half of the album, the odd chorus section or whatever, but generally it descends into madness. Sometimes I'm in the mood for that, and sometimes I'm really not.
The band should have structured this album better, though the first 3 (and a bit) tracks are brilliant. Overall, this album hits points that are at least as high, if not moreso than De-loused, but the overall lack of structure and evolution of ideas brings it down a notch. A fair rating would probably be between 3.5-4.
alright review, although like Hep Kat said, you spent too much time trying to be funny or just ranting, something thats never good. Tone down the brashness of some of your statements, and it'll get my vote.
Shadius, I definately think the album has so many high points, which are all excellent, but it has just as many negative points, which is why I gave it a 3. A good album, but really dragged on far too long in places. Tracks that could have been 6-8 minutes are dragged on to no end. In the end, the album is just too long and doesn't really go far enough in that length.
canyoneer, sorry if you consider the review brash, but I had to give my honest opinion on the album. I added humor in points to make the review less brash. As I said, I might still edit some of the review. WE'll see...
Iluvatar, I felt a blow-by-blow was the most appropriate way to do this album. I originally tried to sum up the entire feeling of the songs, but the main problem with that for me is that each song has high points and low points, as you'll see from my review. I just tried to show these important points, and I felt a blow-by-blow was the best way I could do that.
Everyone else, thanks for the comments! I was afraid fanboys would start jumping on me and telling me "WTF dude u r retarted tmv r AMAZING! The ambience rocks u sukors newb! Go die in a hole!" Thankfully, there's been none of that. Let's try and keep it that way, please and thanks.
you can be honest in reviews, as a matter of fact you are supposed to be honest. But you took it a bit far in this one and ended up bashing the album in a condescending manner, and the humor only made it seem more negative. Also, now that I think about it, your review leans more toward the negative than the positive.
canyoneer, I tried to list both the positives and negatives of each song. There are some parts of the songs I consider genius, but others that just bore me. I gave it a 3 because underneath the overexcessive ambience, you can see that there's something great underneath. Unfortunately, they mostly overdo every song, and it comes off as fake.
Moraff, I totally agree. I find it difficult to listen to this all the way through as well, and it's not just because it's long. Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV is a long album, but I constantly listen to it. This album just goes too long without accomplishing much.