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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



2.78 | 258 ratings

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2 stars Frank Zappa's curious retro-rock album was an oddity even for such a famously idiosyncratic talent. It was originally released in 1968, but looked back almost a decade earlier to an already outdated style of popular music, long out of fashion at the politically charged end of the swinging '60s.

In retrospect the album offers a revealing glimpse of Zappa's doo-wop adolescence, always at the core of even his most subversive musical experiments. Remove the Dada cutups, the juvenile humor, the biting social commentary, and the screaming guitar solos, and this might be the skeleton left behind: rock 'n' roll from an earlier, more innocent age, the perfect soundtrack to a high school sock hop, or for necking in the back seat of your Dad's Chevy.

It's easy to see why Zappa would be drawn to such simple sentiments (first love, first heartbreak), besides the obvious nostalgia value to someone who came of age in Southern California during the late 1950s. The music evokes a return to an uncorrupted Golden Age of Rock, before it became part of a tightly controlled consumer industry (and before the industry became a thorn in the side of such a creative nonconformist).

But listen closer, and you might hear something more than just an affectionate parody or a tongue-n-cheek tribute (take your pick). The relentless, unvarying grove of "Cheap Thrills" (continuing even into the fadeout) combines pure pop nostalgia with a repetitive minimalism worthy of John Cage. And the song "No.No.No." includes some convoluted vocal harmonies not far removed from a GENTLE GIANT madrigal.

In short, all fun stuff, but played seriously...or maybe it's the other way around? Only the cartoon cover art hints at the rock 'n' roll mockery more typical of the Mothers of Invention.

A final note: what might seem like a stingy two-star rating is hardly a measure of the album's quality, but merely an acknowledgement that it would only make sense to an already confirmed Frank Zappa aficionado. Join the Club, and hear what you've been missing.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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