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Pompous thespian rock

Mars Volta

The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute
(Universal Records)
1 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Mar. 30, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

Their publicity bio boldly states upfront that The Mars Volta are neither a concept album band nor a prog (rock) band. Now that is a good one.
First off, their sophomore effort, Frances The Mute, is a five-track opus that follows a man who, adopted in his youth, is now in search of his biological parents, while meeting a variety of different characters who somehow point him closer towards his real parents (no concept going on here, folks). And if the band's two leaders Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (both former members of the explosive indie art-rock band At The Drive-In) were really trying to position themselves from the term "prog rock," they sure picked a funny way to go about it.
Incorporating some of the loftier pretensions of progressive rock bands before them, such as King Crimson, Rush and Genesis, The Mars Volta couldn't be more "prog" if they tried. Melding traces of jazz, funk, Latin music, deformed heavy metal, neck-breaking time-changes and disjointed polyrhythms, the results at first sound intriguing but ultimately end up a convoluted clusterfuck.
On "L'Via L'Viaquez" Bixler-Zavala yelps in Spanish over a spidery lead guitar before the singer's voice mutates into Peter Gabriel's slimy Slipperman character from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as the song downshifts into a tranquilized Caribbean waltz. Cascading into an abyss of further self-indulgence the band offers up the five-part "Cassandra Gemini," which begins with a heavy jam of al-dente leads and dizzying organ before settling down into a little spacey "nap time." While the avant-garde jazz cacophony and hard rock passages that follow are an awakening slap in the face, the song ends on a sweet, if not sleepy-eyed, acoustic note. The one-track that is garnering the band some airtime (at least at college radio) is "The Widow," a pompous-piece of thespian rock that finds Bixler-Zavala mixing over-the-top, rock bravado vocals with saccharine sweetened Lennon-esque phrasings.
With no silence between any of the tracks or passages throughout this 76-minute album, the band instead laboriously ties much of the bloat here together with jazz-transfusions and electro-noodling that, by album's end, makes the mute sound of dead silence a welcome and rewarding conclusion.

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