My Audition For Spin, Part 2
The Mars Volta - "Frances The Mute"
Art-rock experimentation may not inevitably lead to arena-rock bloat, but on “Frances The Mute”, The Mars Volta are treading on thin ice. Musically, their abilities have grown: “L’Via L’Viaquez” combines the powerful post-hardcore riffs on which they built their reputation with quiet Latin breakdowns, while “The Widow” and “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” are both radio-ready ballads that retain a sharp edge and stand above typical examples of modern rock melodrama. However, by placing several minutes of irritating noise between each song, they disrupt the quality of the album as a whole. The fault here is in the particular set of ambient noises used–rather than creating a mood, they just grate on the listener’s nerves and go on for far too long.
That same criticism could be leveled against “Frances the Mute” as a whole. The album’s 5 songs stretch out over 76 minutes, and the final track, “Cassandra Gemini”, accounts for 32 of those minutes all by itself. It’s not a bad song–it has a rousing chorus, and incorporates both horns and a string section into a dramatic buildup that peaks around minute 15. If it had ended right there, it’d be perfect. Instead, they back down from this crescendo and engage in another quarter-hour of directionless jamming. We get pseudo-Coltrane sax blowing over rhythm section vamps, we get extended Hendrix-inspired soloing, but mostly we just get bored. The members of The Mars Volta may have extensive backgrounds in hardcore, but they seem to have forgotten how it was this exact sort of self-indulgence that punk rock started as a backlash against. In the end, their inability to rein themselves in, to concentrate on songs and not meandering jams, cripples “Frances the Mute”. File under “nowhere near as good as it should’ve been.”