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Frank Zappa - Waka / Jawaka CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.93 | 562 ratings

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3 stars Waka/Jawaka is for the most part Frank Zappa's direct successor to his '69 album Hot Rats. That means that here we have bombastic orchestral and big band parts, jazzy improvisations, and general sorts of uncommon musical oddity.

Resting right in the middle of a seeming trilogy with Hot Rats and The Grand Wazoo, this album is shadowed from either direction. The songs feature less direction and purpose, the playing is less inventive, and the volume of music is less. Nevertheless, if either Hot Rats or The Grand Wazoo strike you as great albums, chances are you'll love Waka/Jawaka as well. The guitar is much downplayed throughout the course of the album, perhaps taking a bit more of a Gumbo Variations turn as opposed to a Willie the Pimp one. Zappa's guitar solos are present, but he seems to sit back and direct this album. The sound is once again absolutely stellar, with Frank knowing just how to crank various sonic deviances from each of the instruments. And, boy, are there a lot of instruments. Like on Hot Rats, Frank imported talented musicians from all over to come fill his album to the full--perhaps even fuller than any other Zappa album to be released short of the London Symphony Orchestra ones.

Big Swifty seems like a song that started as a quick little improv and just continued on to fill a whole side. There are a lot of good moments, like the guitar soloing about eleven or twelve minutes in, or the saxophone bits throughout, but on the whole, it's a weak Frankenstein of a track with more or less no direction and nothing impressive in the way of a beginning or an end. Compared to The Gumbo Variations or The Grand Wazoo title track, Big Swifty comes across as particularly weak. Your Mouth is a Chunga's Revenge sort of track, with slightly obnoxious vocals presented in some form of oldie style (complete with the female background vocals). The music is fairly interesting throughout the middle, but it is not enough to make this track truly stand out on its own. Your Mouth in the end also is a fairly weak track compared to Frank's usual output of genius.

It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal is a much more solid tune, sounding like an Allman Brothers Band tune with some odd Germanic verses and a doo-wop sort of chorus reminiscent of the bulk of Zappa's earlier musical creations. Some creativity and awkward harmonies turn this song quickly into a unique and fascinating tune. And, yes, that is Frank on an acoustic, one of those rare moments. Some pedal steel or something sounding like it fills in a nifty little solo, drawing this song to its end. One-Shot Deal is a huge improvement over the previous two tracks. And speaking of improvements, here comes the title track. Brass and horns power a strange big band sound with all the flair you'd hope for from Frank, while the guitar still takes a leading role. The song moves forward, progressing to a distorted guitar solo (much of this song is reminiscent to its big brother, The Grand Wazoo). The drums and bass back a myriad of wild musical ramblings with a solidity that truly grounds the song. About seven minutes in, the brass returns to the front in one of Zappa's strongest musical moments. A drum solo, a cinematic melody, and a triumphant conclusion wrap up this song.

All in all, an album with a very weak first half but a rather entertaining second half. Fans of Frank, especially the Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo style, will find plenty to love here. Nevertheless, it is a particularly bad place to start with for Frank, as it does not remotely do justice to his usual style and quality of songwriting.

LiquidEternity | 3/5 |


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