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


Frank Zappa



2.78 | 259 ratings

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3 stars In a move that I'm betting Frank had fully planned out even before the band began recording Freak Out!, Cruising with Ruben & The Jets is The Mothers pulling a practical joke on the world by doing what seems to be a straight-up, completely earnest 50's-rock and doo-wop tribute album. Sure, the band had done doo-wop before, but where the doo-wop on Freak Out! had all sorts of bizarre tweaks that made it anything but conventional, Cruising doesn't have any overtly obvious signs of parody. If you didn't know who recorded this, or if your first exposure to the image of Frank Zappa was the picture on the back of the CD reissue (which, for those who are familiar with Frank, is absolutely freaking hilarious), I'm pretty willing to bet you wouldn't be able to tell that this was recorded by one of the most avant-garde collections of musicians in the history of rock music. My goodness, they even re-recorded four of the Freak Out! songs in the form of completely normal doo-wop tracks, and they blend in so well here with the other numbers that I had to check back at the Freak Out! tracklisting the first couple of times I listened to this to remember which ones were the ones taken from there.

So, ok, it's a pretty funny joke on an overall level, but the most important question is whether or not the album itself is enjoyable to listen to. The answer is ... sorta yes. The most important matter along these lines is the fact that the band members (ok, maybe just Frank, I don't actually know how the other people in the group felt about this joke) didn't actually try to create an "enjoyable" (in the proper sense of the word) listening experience with this album (which he refers to, in the liner notes no less, as "an album of greasy love songs and cretin simplicity"). While it is true that Frank grew up largely loving doo-wop, he also loved it despite a perfect awareness of the limitations and ridiculousnesses of the genre, and he sure doesn't try to write around those traits here. Hence, some of the tracks just can't help but be completely unlistenable even after the nature of the joke has been taken into consideration, at least not if you've been weaned primarily on post-50's music.

On the other hand, though, some of the cariactures within these songs are really truly funny, and they help boost this album's rating a long way. Am I the only person who finds the concept of a 50's pop song about "cheap thrills in the back of my car" hilarious? Or who nearly falls over laughing at the sound of Frank's low-pitched backing vocals in "Later That Night?" Or who can barely contain himself when hearing some of the ridiculous spoken monologues on here? The point is, there are a lot of little points within these songs that manage to give the album much more replay value than it theoretically should have. Heck, the closing number goes out with a completely incongruous (and great) Zappa guitar solo, and that's not something you'll find on most 50's tribute albums.

Still, this is an album where you need the full context of Zappa's early career to properly appreciate it. This isn't a bad album by any means, but when you're building a Mothers of Invention collection, this should definitely be your last stop.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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