I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to write a review of The Mars Volta's latest CD, Frances the Mute, but it's proving a slippery beast to try and grasp.
I thought it would help to read what other reviewers have to say (and every reviewer in the world is writing about it). It seems like they're all stabbing in the dark, too, wildly throwing labels at it in the hope that one or two stick. Is it brilliant melding of Latin and prog-rock influences? Yes. Is it an indecipherable, self-aggrandizing mess? Oh yes. A complicated math-rock enigma? Yeah, kind of like math-rock for literature majors who can't decide which makes less sense: Finnegan's Wake or Naked Lunch.
Most importantly, is it worth shelling out your hard-earned cash? Hmm. That depends. How high is your tolerance for psychedelic sound-scapes, endless guitar wanking and nonsensical lyrics delivered, alternately, in a blood-curdling wail and a breathy whisper? Think of Frances the Mute as a musical Rubik's Cube. How long did it take you before you threw the thing down in frustration?
I guess my tolerance for that sort of thing is somewhere in the middle, because I want to turn everyone I know onto The Mars Volta, but I plan to do so by presenting the band's more straight-forward previous effort, De-Loused in the Comatorium. That's the one people are talking about when they try to claim The Mars Volta sounds like Led Zeppellin (which they do, and don't). Then, once they're hooked I'll lob Frances at them. That is, except for my old pal Joe V., who is the only person I know who regularly listens to Bill Bruford's solo work. He gets Frances right off the bat.
About the only thing that can be said with certainty about Frances the Mute is that you won't hear anything else like it out there. And if you're the type who managed to get your cube back together again, you'll find Frances to be an endlessly rewarding odyssey — one best experienced with a good set of headphones in a dark room.