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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Absolutely Free CD (album) cover

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: ABSOLUTELY FREE

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.05 | 501 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Absolutely Free is the 2nd official Frank Zappa and the Mothers album after their debut "Freak Out!" This one pretty much takes off where the previous album left off. "Freak Out" was a double disc and started out quite structured, leaning heavily on doo wop and R&B structures of the time and Frank loved these kinds of songs. However, they are a little wacked out compared to the standard fare that was out there because FZ put his own stamp on them. The 2nd disc however, was more experimental featuring improv and collage style music with even more wackiness. "Absolutely Free" continues with more the weird and wacky, but this time, FZ adds many snippets of classical music in among the songs. The music has many surprises in it, especially to the listener who is really paying attention, and this is the main reason this album demands to be listened to more than once. The problem here however, is with the line up that FZ had with the Mothers, who appreciated the humor and the satire, but didn't really appreciate the culture that Frank was adding to the mix.

Absolutely Free originally was divided up into 2 "parts" (or in Frank's vision; "underground oratorios") The first side of the record (tracks 1 - 7)was called Absolutely Free. The 2nd side was called "The M.O.I. American Pageant". The overall feel of the album is Frank's use of the Oratorio style from many Opera works, which he composes into the music very successfully. When this album was issued on CD, 2 tracks were inserted between these 2 parts. These tracks consisted of the 2 songs from the single that was released about the same time, but was not part of this album; "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'cha Do Me Right?". The feeling of both of these added tracks does not fit in with the other tracks since they do not follow the oratorio style. Instead, they are more of a blues-rock sound, but they are still a welcome addition anyway.

The first Oratorio mixes political, musical and just plain outrageous vegetable satirical themes. Franks compositional skills start to really make themselves apparent here as he mixes up doo wop, classical and rock music. However, the weakness of most of the performers in the performance of such a mash up also shows through. They got the comedy part down great though. "Plastic People" acts as a Intro of what's to come up and features a motif similar to the rock classic "Louie Louie". The next 3 tracks are linked together with a theme and variation style of composition with the middle track being mostly a short instrumental break and a return to theme on the last part. This is the Duke of Prunes theme. The next 3 tracks also follow this same pattern but with a different theme; the Vegetable theme. This time, the middle section is a long 7 minute jazz instrumental with guitar and woodwinds featured at the front of the mix. The last section closes both the theme and the 1st oratorio.

On the CD version, we are now treated to 2 tracks that were not on the original release. As stated before, these 2 songs were released together as a single around the same time period. They seem to be mixed a lot better than the rest of the album and are more typical blues-rock songs with FZ vocals sung in lower registers, but still with different timbres. Pleasant enough and they are a welcome change to the oratorio style of the rest of the album.

The second Oratorio again mixes political satire with musical surprises, but no prunes or vegetables are involved this time. The main subject here is the importance of status in American society and how silly it all is when you consider it. Each section of this Oratorio stands pretty much on it's own and each represents different areas of life where status affects people in mostly negative ways. The entire oratorio is bookended by status of bar bands and represent a typical night in a bar or lounge. There is a lot of background voices signifying a busy bunch of patrons drinking. "Status Back Baby" is probably the most straight forward doo-wop song in the original line up of the album, and it hilariously deals with status at the typical high school of the 60s and 70s. "Uncle Bernie's Farm" deals with the latest fads and toys and you really notice the improv that goes on in Frank's music when Ray says something that cracks Frank up in the middle of the song. More status satire continues with "Son of Suzy Creamcheese" where Frank shifts time signatures faster than a speeding eggplant (oops where did that vegetable reference come from) in a very short song. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a political story sung in drama form and is the longest track on this side, in fact it is the only long track on this side, at over 7 minutes. It is a story of status clash between Lyndon Johnson who was president at the time, and a young teen girl, and, if you know Frank's sense of humor, you know what that story will consist of. Nowadays, because of a certain orange president, this behavior seems to be more acceptable, especially among the religious zealots, so it loses it's humor and impact. This track features the best performances of the Mothers on this album. The last track closes out the oratorio and the album and features some vocalizations from Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and etc.) and his girlfriend.

That's it in a nutshell. This album is more interesting as a historical and musical item then it is as an album that you would want to listen to over and over again. I find it somewhat annoying because I don't like the line up of the Mothers so much especially because they were not as advanced musically as Frank was. However, it does pull off the satire quite well. Trouble is, Frank wanted to also get listeners interested in serious music, not just from past composers, but also his own. That is where this albums fails. There are just too many people that only listen for the humor but don't want to take the time to really listen to everything going on here. Don't worry though, because Frank will do better as time goes on with the serious part. Historically, this is an important progressive album, but there are so many more albums in Zappa's repertoire that are better than this, especially when he gets better musicians to back him up. I have to give this one 3 stars, but it was a good attempt and gives a good idea of what was to come later.

TCat | 3/5 |

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