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Frank Zappa - Freak Out! CD (album) cover

FREAK OUT!

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.89 | 436 ratings

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Pnoom!
4 stars "Suzy Creamcheese, honey, what's got into you?"

What an album! The songs are of incredible and quite inedible variety, ranging from ballet (unfinished in two tableaux) to hair gel to barber shop rock to "Motown Waltz" to more trivial stuff, such as "nonsense" and "poop." The quality ranges from "my, my" to "ho-hum" to "Wowie-Zowie!" Some of the album is "okay and safe" (perhaps "even right down your alley"), and some of it is "what freaks sound like when you turn them loose in a recording studio at one o'clock in the morning on $500 worth of rented percussion equipment."

Now, did that make any sense? If you don't own the album, chances are the answer is a resounding, "no!" So let me instead try a rather more reasonable quote from the liner notes (from which the above quotes came), one which will hopefully give you some insight into the album by answer the question, "what is 'freaking out?'"

"On a personal level, Freaking Out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricting standards of thinking, dress, and social etiquette in order to express CREATIVELY his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole. Less perceptive individuals have referred to us who have chosen this way of thinking and FEELING as 'freaks,' hence the term: FREAKING OUT.

"On a collective level, when any number of 'Freaks' gather and express themselves creatively through music or dance, for example, it is generally referred to as a FREAK OUT. The participants, already emancipated from our national social slavery, dressed in their most inspired apparel, realize as a group whatever potential they possess for free expression."

That quote (capitalization preserved) just about sums up this entire album. It is Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention Freaking Out for sixty minutes, being as uncommercial as they wish and protesting the shackles of the music industry, which as we know, tries to spit out a bunch of clones that will sell millions (in the liner notes, in the relevant quotes section, one of their quotes was "no commercial potential," by a "very important man at Columbia records"). But this album is more, much more, than a simple (albeit amazing) freak out. Frank and the Mothers' Freak Out is a vitriolic satire of all things American, from "our mediocre educational system," designed to spit out conformists (a.k.a. anti-freaks) who can't think for themselves (as the liner notes say, "forget about senior prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts") to the general state of Americans (describing as possessing the same level of brain function as a rock in "Help I'm a Rock") to racism and police brutality. The liner notes (and indeed the entire album) are a direct insult to YOU, automatically assuming that you are a typical American rock ("as an American teenager [as an American], this means nothing to you"). The lyrics are brilliant and witty and clearly get across their message, as in the song "Trouble Every Day," which, in describing racism and police brutality (and condemning both), which says, "I'm not black, but there are a whole bunch of times I wish I could say I'm not white."

And yet, despite all the social commentary present on the album, Freak Out isn't some dreary gloomy mess (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). While eye opening, it's incredibly fun to listen to. Zappa has the unique ability to insult you and still get you laughing along with him (and at yourself). His masterful guitar work is clear throughout the album, and Jim Black on drums also gives a stellar performance. Each song is done in a different style, all building up to and finally culminating in The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet, a monster twelve-minute track full of insane drumming, insane-er vocals, and still more. The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet is THE Freak Out Zappa and the Mothers were aiming for, defying the notion they presented in the previous song, It Can't Happen Here, that a Freak Out could not occur where they were. Like with Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica (another pinnacle of avant prog), the tracks only truly work well when listened to together, but my how well they turn out as a cohesive whole. Also like Trout Mask Replica, and indeed like with much of the RIO/avant genre, this isn't an album to listen to, but an album, as the liner notes say, to "HEAR" (capitalization preserved). Before you think that this and Trout Mask Replica are the same, however, keep in mind that most of the songs here are actually quite catchy (if strange and different) and full of melody, while on Trout Mask Replica, it is pretty much the exact opposite (no melody whatsoever and completely indigestible. all in a good way). There are some glaring exceptions to the catchy nature of the album, but even still it's all fairly digestible (other than The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet).

In addition to being fun and brilliant, it was (and still is) incredibly influential. It speaks volumes about this album that even the Beatles regarded it as an incredibly important album (and that it specifically influenced Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a favor returned by Zappa and Co. on We're Only In It For the Money). I can't remember if it was actually the first double album (I think it was), but it was certainly one of the first. It was also the first concept album (though, despite the band's moniker, not the "mother of all concept albums," an award that goes to Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick). The concept, is of course, about throwing off societal chains and Freaking Out, and about how America is set up to prevent this. The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet is the very first "sound collage." Also, I really have to ask, is Trouble Every Day the first rap song? Finally, Freak Out is one of the defining avant- garde albums, and, last but not least, it is quite possibly (though this is a point of constant debate) the first true progressive rock album released (though obviously not in the traditional symphonic sense of In the Court of the Crimson King).

However you look at, it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that Freak Out is essential (even if it hadn't been influential at all, the music is still amazing), and one of the greatest debuts I know. If you want to know progressive rock, you NEED to know this album. I'd like to join Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (if you will spare me one final quote from the liner notes) in encouraging you to get this album, join the United Mutations, and FREAK OUT!

Pnoom! | 4/5 |

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