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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Burnt Weeny Sandwich CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.91 | 441 ratings

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4 stars 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich' is a fine example of the impatient variety of Frank Zappa's music. It has all the fast-moving attention deficit tendencies of a mind that is too full and quick to get stuck in a rut, and doesn't even know the meaning of the word 'boredom'. A common criticism of some of Zappa's albums is that they corral together a whole bunch of unrelated stuff - a series of non sequiturs with no binding narrative or thematic thread. (I guess this might be a more likely complaint from prog rock fans in particular!) But precisely the thing I personally like about this period of Zappa, with its 'collage' albums, is that lightning-speed, let's-see-now-what-do-we-have-here, six degrees of separation atmosphere. How many leaps of lateral thinking does it take to get from doo-wop to neo-classical hommage to movie soundtrack parody to monster instrumental collage and back to doo-wop again? Have a listen to this album and you'll find out.

We begin with the grinning singalong of 'WPLJ' - one of those half-tender, half-smirking doo-wop re-enactments that Zappa threw out now and again, just because he could, I guess. A bit of mischief-making to start proceedings off and probably to confound all those 'serious listeners' who might be expecting to hear something more right-on.

After that, it's on to 'Igor's Boogie, Phase One' - a palate-cleansing morsel of neo-classical confectionery to take the sugary taste of 'WPLJ' away. There is no time to savour it though, as we are already late for...

...'Overture to A Holiday in Berlin', with its queasy, out of tune fairground sound and bleating drunken wind instruments. 'Holiday in Berlin' refers to an incident at a Mothers concert in Berlin in 1968, when some aggrieved student activists had a bit of a tantrum over Frank Zappa's unwillingness to collude with them in a planned act of vandalism. This piece and the later reprise of it, further down the running order, was Zappa's riposte - a cynical sigh, a belittling glance, in musical form. I'm always impressed with how Zappa's music can tease so mercilessly, just by the way it sounds, without the need for comedy lyrics. (Indeed, some people would prefer it if Zappa had never written any lyrics!)

Now we move swiftly on to 'Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich', which is a restrained and repetitive rock instrumental, used mainly as a backdrop for Zappa's leisurely guitar explorations. Not my favourite piece on the album, mainly because it is fairly repetitive, but it does give us a peaceful moment's breather before the next piece.

'Igor's Boogie, Phase Two' arrives, blaring its odd mixture of melancholy tootling and comedy noises, whereupon...

...We are now back in Berlin for 'Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown', which gives us a less comical and more straightforward rendering of the 'Holiday' theme. I love this, for its gear changes through atmospheres ranging from gentle and civilised, via purposefully cheesy and ironic, to all out musical sneering, with speeded up militaristic percussion (surely a dig at those idiotic rioters, marching-marching-marching for no reason whatsoever). At this point, you can be quite sure that Zappa is laughing at you. Of course, to counter that, there is a smattering of eloquent guitar, in which we get a glimpse of emotion (something that is rarely if ever admitted to in any other facet of Zappa's music).

Time now for 'Aybe Sea', a kind of faux sea shanty-cum-movie music hybrid. Zappa was apparently rather fond of real sea shanties, and this enjoyable pretend one could be soundtrack to a cartoon.

At last it's time for 'The Little House I Used To Live In', which opens with a delicious spoonful of ice-cold, contemptuous and yet melancholy piano. Probably in my top ten of Zappa moments! It's stark, bold, somehow emotional, and yet I can't help wondering if he's just being manipulative with it - pressing the listener's buttons a little, before the main theme bursts forth exuberantly, with no warning. We have suddenly been dragged from moody contemplation into a jazz rock cataclysm! This is brisk, proud stuff, with plenty of showing off. Ingredients include, but are not limited to, incensed guitar, dirty violin like nails being dragged down a grimy window, pounding piano and drums, affronted jazz... Later there is an incongruous moment of quietude with soft woodwinds and tinkly keyboards, a drip of sentiment tinged with bitterness... Then a sudden irruption of speeded-up chaos. It's almost like a self-parody of all the preceding phases of the piece. As the music mounts a squalling, ethnic-tinged ascent to its conclusion, we are met with rapturous audience noise, the tantalising announcement of a proposed attempt to play 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It', and then some disgruntled blithering from hecklers (who were apparently making their feelings known regarding some armed service personnel in the audience). Cue Zappa's immortal line, Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform and don't kid yourselves. And, following further hollering from the miscreants, You'll hurt your throat, stop it! Great stuff.

And with that rollercoaster-ride over and done with, we end our whistle stop tour of Zappa's musical domain, arriving back at the doo-wop check-point. This is where we get off, the portal back to normality! 'Valarie' is like an anodyne comedown after 'Little House'. An interesting contrast indeed.

Well then, time to sum up. This album offers a bitesize glimpse, a curious miniaturised scale model, of very many aspects of FZ's music from this period - it's like a sample vial of concentrated essence of Zappa, which might also make it a good choice as an entry point to the most bewilderingly prolific and varied discography of them all. All this music has its place, from a sweet pop song to an unbridled jazz rock explosion, and here, as ever, Zappa manages to pull off a whole heap of contrasting styles with his usual air of languid-ease-contradicted-by-sheer-effort. This album will probably not entertain you much if you like a gentle 'story arc' with your music, but if it's a variety performance you're after, give it a go - it's fun, flashy and well worth it for the magnificence that is 'Little House' alone. It's also a bit of a grower, methinks. When I first heard it, I wasn't exactly leaping up and down for love of it, but it's since become one of my most played Zappa albums. From me, four stars for this entertaining and quirky mixture.

song_of_copper | 4/5 |


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