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Frank Zappa - Hot Rats CD (album) cover

HOT RATS

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.33 | 1045 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Hot Rats' - Frank Zappa (6/10)

As a man of many facets in his music, this stands as being Frank Zappa's first real foray into the realm of jazz. Taking a few of his friends along for the ride (Captain Beefheart, and Jean-Luc Ponty for an added jazz flair) 'Hot Rats' has long been considered to be one of his best moments of his career. Relying on heavy instrumentation and the virtuosity of both himself and his fellow musicians, 'Hot Rats' ends up becoming an album of two measures; parts of it are heavily improvised and others are very evident of intent composition.

My only other experience with Frank Zappa before initially listening to this had been the concrete piece 'Lumpy Gravy,' it was certainly a nice change of pace to have some actual music added to the mix. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of this style or album in particular, I can certainly see why it gets exceptional praise. The performances are spectacular and sure to impress even the most anal of critics. The only performance that I don't enjoy is actually that of Captain Beefheart's vocal work on the bluesy track 'Willie The Pimp.' At first it is a bit irritating before erupting into a display of bad taste. Apart from that however, I can at least appreciate the intent of putting a few vocals here and there, but it seems to fall short in the end.

Three of the songs here are relatively laid back, at least in terms of the amount of improvisation that is allowed. The three longer songs are actually do not have more 'composition' as many would assume; instead they have a lot of room for the musicians to improvise. The main contender for this is the massive sixteen minute 'Gumbo Variations.' While I do enjoy listening to musicians solo and showing off their chops, such a large portion (especially when there are other songs with considerable solo sections as well) ends up getting a bit bland and it's easy to zone out and lose interest. There are certainly people that are going to get into this and think it's amazing, but not me.

The three shorter songs are a lot tighter, and still show musical skill without having to do it in long-form. My favourite of the songs would have to be the slightly ominous (and most jazzy track) 'Little Umbrellas.' It's songs like this on the record that really prove that Frank Zappa is an amazing, underrated composer.

I've been really trying to listen to this more and find more things to like about it, and while there's plenty to like here, I find the overdrawn solos and some of the obnoxious sounding timbres to get a bit annoying to the point that it can hurt the appreciation of the parts that really are masterful. Perhaps one day after listening, this will break through to me and I'll appreciate it as what it apparently is; a masterpiece. Until then, this hasn't convinced me as being anything more than 'pretty cool' and 'listenable.'

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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