MARS VOLTA – Frances The Mute (Universal)

Another band that I was very late in coming to was The Mars Volta. Never having been a great fan of At The Drive In, I was not really that worried what the individual members got up to when the band split, but after constantly hearing the word ‘progressive’ bandied about in relation to their debut album ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ I bought it and was blown away with the music it contained. It really was progressive in every way, with the twisted time signatures and obtuse lyrics missed so much by us fans of 70’s prog. Harness that to a 21st Century production and you have one of my favourite albums of last year. When I heard that the follow-up was going to be one 70 minute piece of music with lyrics in Spanish and Latin then I knew I had to be first in the queue to get it. Based around a diary discovered by Jeremy Ward - a late friend of the band - chronicling the authors attempts to locate his parents, Cedric and Omar have used that as a jumping off point to try and put the author’s search (for the ‘Frances’ of the title) to music, and while not having the impact of their debut, it nevertheless builds on its reputation and delivers some breath-taking moments. As with all truly maverick bands, it is hard to describe the music by comparing them to other groups, and although at times you can hear snatches of early 70’s King Crimson, and at others a Radiohead moment, for the most part it is music that defies description. Despite the album being meant to be listened to in one sitting, a single has been extracted, and ‘The Widow’ summarises the whole album into one four and a half minute piece. It might be overblown, pretentious and a bit too far out for a lot of people, but I love it. Try to hear the single, and if you too like their mixture of rock/prog/jazz/metal then get the album, listen to the whole thing, and prepare to have your musical horizons widened.