Mars Needs Women

In their pursuit of Total Rock Heaviosity (and outstanding trousers), the Mars Volta embody something beautiful and heroic, even in failure. However, listening to Frances the Mute in its entirety is rough going, especially without meds. I wondered: Was there some emotional algebra to this music that, once understood, would unlock a new landscape of meaning? For insight I called esteemed rock babe and Mars Volta devotee Jaan Uhelszki. After 30 minutes of stream-of-consciousness smack, I had my answer: Freddie Mercury rules!

K: So, the Mars Volta. New record. Talk to me.

J: It’s the new Tommy.

Ah . . . Frances the Mute!

Yeah, Tommy’s mute — deaf, dumb and blind. It’s a guy who’s trying to figure out who he is — a search for self.

Except that guy at least played pinball.


I keep thinking Flannery O’Connor, and I have no idea why.

And I keep thinking Carson McCullers. It’s the same thing, this Southern gothic search for what is essentially human, what is a person, what is identity.

Right the boy who found the diary. [Mars Volta band member Jeremy Ward apparently found a diary in the back seat of a car, and became enthralled with its story of an adopted man in search of his biological parents. Ward died in May 2003 of an alleged overdose; the album is inspired by both Ward and the diary.]

The songs are named after people in the diary. They’re really long, almost symphonic, atmospheric explorations into the subconscious of their fallen compatriot.

But even without knowing that, it’s clear that this is a search for self, and going into this heart of darkness to come out the other side. But what bothers me is, I feel like there’s no way out of it. It’s part Rush and part Freddie Mercury, but it doesn’t have that buoyancy that Freddie Mercury has.

Yeah, maybe this music is just a little bit too heterosexual!

It’s very heterosexual! And that usually doesn’t bother me, because I’m all about the MC5 and Led Zeppelin . . . But there’s no love in this, either. There’s no softness.

Well, it’s an album about the loss of the mother.

Very Metal Machine Music, but not as industrial. It’s almost like there had to be a Metal Machine Music, a Lou Reed, for them to pull something like this off.

Right, it feels to me almost like music about music. I think that’s why their biggest fan is John Frusciante. It’s music for musicians.

Oh, I know, you’re dying to deconstruct it. It’s so anal. Talk about doing gink work! Little guitars and layers and bells and things that sound like cell phones on top. There’s an OCD quality, repetitive guitar solos that don’t go anywhere, kind of masturbatory shredding for the sake of shredding.

That kind of music, you really have to be on drugs to really enjoy.

I know! It doesn’t work in a normal situation. I was driving and listening to it, and I was driving faster — I felt like I was trying to drive away from it.

Great art can do a couple things — and I do think this is great art, even if I don’t like it. There’s an anxiety inherent in the culture, and great art reflects the culture. If things were different, they might have made a different record. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

But maybe the record isn’t a true vision of our culture, and the Bush era, but actually a part of it. They’re both from Texas, and in a sense they both have this gothic, biblical sense of grandiosity and impending doom. And maybe that’s why this music doesn’t feel like it offers a way out.

I think that’s true . . . This guy from Texas told me, the thing about Texas is, they just don’t give a fuck. They don’t care what you think.

The Mars Volta don’t care if anybody buys this record. Why else would you make 13-minute-long songs? Who’s going to play that on the radio? They don’t care.

Nobody really does that anymore.

Nobody’s done that since maybe the Moody Blues.

And they say this isn’t a concept album!

I bet you any money Flea is on “Miranda That Ghost.”

You bet me Eddie Money?

I bet you Eddie Money.

Yeah, he does play trumpet on there.


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