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The Mars Volta:: Frances the Mute (Album Review)

It’s a weird world we live in when progressive rock can sound this vital, this fresh, this downright exhilarating. Prog, lest we forget, being a movement that became so stale and indulgent that punk had to happen as the ultimate two-fingered riposte. Three decades on and prog crawls out from under its rock looking less shamed than when it ran off all those years ago, blundering in clownish platforms with its stupid beard flapping behind like Biggles’ scarf. Bands such as Muse (and to a lesser extent The Darkness) have done wonders for noodly, interminable guitar epics, but it’s The Mars Volta who have produced a record so out there, so mind-bogglingly grandiose that it beggars belief. There are five songs in all, or rather five envelopes with titles like ‘Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore’ and ‘Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus’, and within each of these parts are more parts; kind of like ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis, but unfathomably expansive, whizzing and frothing along at an unholy pace, and featuring the most brutal and wigged-out funk-metal-prog-madness you’re ever likely to hear. They wear their influences on their Wizard sleeves; Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, even Queen can be heard within, though it’s the production (by the band themselves) and the mixing (by much in demand Rich Costey) that elevates ‘Frances the Mute’ to the exalted position it shows off from. Of course, the lyrics are still unfathomably pretentious, like the scribbles of a sixth former who’s just got into magic mushrooms. “Blackmailed, she fell off every mountain / The ones they tightly wrapped in tape / In her eraser sang the guilty / As it made the best mistakes…” etc etc. Err, yeah, right on Cedric. But miraculously the lyrics never sound like the pompous shite they undoubtedly are. They fit the music and make the whole picture even more laughably and absurdly brilliant. I mean, what does “My nails peel back / When the taxidermist ruined / Goose stepped the freckling impatience” actually mean? And who gives a fuck? Omar and Cedric’s opus is of such flamboyant magnitude it can only feel like the future, and judging by the length of some of these songs, you’ll be living in the future by the time it’s finished. If you’ve heard ‘The Widow’ by now you’ll have an inkling what to expect, but nothing can prepare you for just how mighty ‘Frances the Mute’ is. Unspeakably good. (Review by: Jeremy Allen)