I should probably get one thing out of the way before delving into this review. The Mars Volta is not a band that most people are going to enjoy. They don’t have killer hooks, the lyrics don’t make any sense, and the entirety of Frances The Mute is composed of one 76-minute song broken down into five suites, which are then broken down into 12 movements on the record itself.
Sound interesting? To 95% of you reading this review, probably not.
Here’s the thing, though. The 5% of you who DO think something like Frances The Mute sounds like an interesting concept are going to fall head over heels in love with this record.
The guys from The Mars Volta spent six years toiling in the El Paso band At The Drive In. They played post-hardcore punk rock with the best of them, and were on the way to garnering serious critical and commercial acclaim when they abruptly disbanded the band. Two groups were formed from the ashes of At The Drive In; Sparta and The Mars Volta. Sparta is awful and I won’t waste another word on them during this review, but The Mars Volta has become, quite possibly, the only prog-rock band in the world that is worth anything.
Frances The Mute is the most amazing release of 2005 thus far, and it’s probably going to be a top ten finish when the year is out and over as well. Part Rush, part Zeppelin, part Radiohead’s OK Computer, and part Latin samba, it’s a beautiful mishmash of noise, arty soundscapes, pretentious lyrics and killer riffs stolen straight from the Led Zeppelin fake book.
Sure, it’s a little tough to accept at first. Listening to a 76 minute concept album isn’t something most people enjoy doing, and it takes a sincere effort to not flip the disc out the first time you listen to it. But if you’re patient and you take a breather, you’ll begin to notice all sorts of little nuances and hooks that are buried deep within a psychological experiment gone horribly, horribly right.
Frances The Mute might only sell 100,000 copies. The Mars Volta won’t ever be Creed and they’ll never sell out Wembley Stadium. None of that matters, though, because if you’re willing to sit through the nonsense lyrics and the eight-minute wall of pure noise that can be found during these cuts, then you’re probably the type of person who will enjoy Frances The Mute on many different levels.
Rock and roll is often described as anything but rocket science, but with Frances The Mute, The Mars Volta might have a pretty good shot at shattering that description. It’s a beautiful album, a beautiful mess, and a beautiful ode to what music can be and what it should be, despite what MTV tells you.