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Frank Zappa - Lumpy Gravy CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.22 | 361 ratings

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3 stars Back when I was an undergrad, I read the newsgroup fairly frequently. Because Yes didn't tend to get what was perceived as their props from The Rolling Stone Album Guide, it was common for threads to eventually work around to become lengthy bashes of that book and its writers. Most of the complaints were fairly commonplace, but every so often somebody would have an interesting point to make along these lines. One of these points referred to the overwhelming number of Frank Zappa albums that got ratings between **1/2 and ***1/2. The poster suggested that the people who assigned these ratings didn't listen to most of the albums more than once or twice, and he therefore referred to the ratings of **1/2, *** and ***1/2 as the "hell if I know" range.

Well, you know what? I can empathize, and it isn't every day you'll see me sympathizing with Rolling Stone reviewers, because quite a bit of Zappa's output definitely falls into a "hell if I know" category. Like, say, Lumpy Gravy. One prominent reviewer had the ingenious idea to get out of assigning this an actual grade by formally categorizing this as "This is Not Music," and man would it be tempting to do likewise. On, the other hand, there are actually a few stretches on this that are indisputably music, particularly the pieces that bookend the album (a bit of interesting modern classical that starts the album, and an instrumental version of "Take Off Your Clothes When You Dance," from Money, to close it), so that doesn't quite seem right either ...

If you haven't listened to this album, try to imagine a seemingly deliberately random collage of modern classical spliced with bizarre conversations, spliced with some noises that would later appear on Money, spliced with whatever. Goodness me, at least the jam/collage that ended Freak Out! usually had a steady rhythm underpinning it; imagine if the jam had lost the few vestiges of cohesion it possessed and was released on its own, and you'll vaguely approach imagining what this album is like.

The thing is, I don't hate it. I mean, there aren't really any individual parts that are unpleasant, and there's never a moment where I go, "That's it, I can't listen to this anymore." Some of the conversations are fairly pogniant in how inane they are (oh man, the "pick up sticks" bit is painful, because I know too many people who would be capable of actually laughing like that after getting onto that topic), and a lot of the classical and jazz bits are certainly fun to listen to for a couple of minutes. Of course, most of them only last a couple of minutes at the very most, after which the album switches to something completely different.

On the other hand, even though I don't hate it, and like several individual pieces, I can't say I like this much either. In a certain sense this is dense, but it doesn't strike me as the kind of dense that reveals new interesting things with many repeated listens. I've listened to this quite a few times over the years, and I can definitely say that my appreciation for this hasn't grown with each listen. It's not complicated so much as it's just weird; I'm fairly sure that that was Zappa's intent, of course, to just make the most bizarre splicing of all of his "spare parts" that he could, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have to love what he did (I don't think he meant for people to love this either). It's just ... kinda neat, but not neat enough for me to feel like I'll ever have to listen to this again.

In short, I have no idea how I just wrote five paragraphs (albeit very short paragraphs) about Lumpy Gravy and matters related to it. Buy it cheap for the curiousity, but sell it cheap after a couple of listens; that's all the times you'll need to hear it, if your ears are anything like mine.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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