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Frank Zappa - Burnt Weeny Sandwich CD (album) cover

BURNT WEENY SANDWICH

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.89 | 272 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Do you know why I like Frank Zappa? It's not just because of his status as a musical revolutionary, and it's not just because of the large amount of brilliant work that attaches to his name. I like Frank Zappa because, for all of his many studio accomplishments within and without The Mothers, I can state that my favorite Zappa album is a collection of reworked live outtakes, and I can (seemingly) do so without an incredible amount of dissent from other Zappa fans. I love absurdity, don't you?

On paper, this is, definitely, a really bizarre choice for a favorite Zappa album. It consists of nine tracks, two of which are regular doo-wop (these bookend the album), two of which are :36 each of dissonant interlude and one of which is an "overture" to another piece. The remainder, as far as I'm aware, is a mix of live instrumental improvisations, modern- classical and jazz-fusion outtakes, some of which were first recorded live and then taken into the studio. Except for the doo-wop numbers, there are no vocals at all, barring a moment at the end of "Little House" during the audience applause when there's a mildly tense moment between Zappa and an irritated fan.

In short, then, one might wonder how such a hodge-podge collection could ascend to such a lofty place in terms of my regard for Frank and Co.; indeed, there was a good while after I realized how much I loved the album where I'd start to play it and try to remember what on earth it was that had made me so ga-ga over it in the first place. I mean, the doo-wop tracks ("WPLJ" and "Valerie;" both are covers, despite me being told initially that the latter was a Mothers original) are hardly spectacular, nor do I think they're meant to be; aside from a funny monologue at the end of the former, they would completely pass me by on another album. Same goes for "Igor's Boogie (Phase One)" and "Igor's Boogie (Phase Two);" it's very likely that on another album I might even be actively complaining about these two tracks.

But you know what? I don't (in general) review collections of individual tracks; I review albums, and this is a clear case (in my mind) of the distinction between the two. The collection and sequencing of the tracks on this album absolutely amazes me, because Frank accomplishes three significant tasks in doing so (which I will address one by one), all the while throwing in a bonus trait for good measure. The first regards the tension and release thereof throughout; the second regards the symmetry of the album (though actually this is very tied to the first, and could be called trait 1a); the third regards the way Frank creates a "proxy" for the band's overall work. The fourth is that there's actually a strong dose of un-ironic emotion on here, an accomplishment for sure from Frank, but I'll get into that.

First, the tension and release aspect. One of the aspects I enjoyed the most about Freak Out! was the way Frank played on the inherent expectation of a wild, crazy, mind-blowing experience by instead providing a bunch of pop and doo-wop parodies, thus making the later effect of "Help, I'm a Rock!" et al that much more pronounced. I realized after first reviewing it that that album was very much, in terms of building up to a storm, a sort of studio equivalent of Bob Dylan's Live '66 album, at least in terms of toying with the audience. Well, Frank does a similar thing here, though the actual purpose is slightly different (there isn't an explicit message here). The opening combination of "WPLJ" and "Igor's Boogie 1" works well along these lines, making the listener wonder why on earth Frank would put two tracks like that immediately together, and "Overture to a Holiday in Berlin" ups the ante by featuring a "romantic" theme that happens to have some of the instruments way, waaaaay flat. "Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich" (a very pleasant, hypnotic instrumental that mostly stars Zappa and his wah-wah pedal) acts as a pleasant "diversion" (one that just happens to really really rule), before "Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown" manages to "correct" the partial flatness of "Overture" in one of its parts (its many parts add up to one of the loveliest modern-classical/jazz instrumentals I can imagine; the last half of it features more of Zappa's guitar skills at their most hypnotic), thus releasing the tension that came specifically from that part earlier on.

But of course, that doesn't relieve all of the tension of the first side, and the very beginning of side two's "The Little House I Used to Live In" piles its own lump of tension into the pile as well. It's soooo intricate and so full of different moods and great melodies, even just within the first five minutes or so (which begins with a couple of minutes of piano improv), as it builds into a multi-instrumental extravaganza, then lets Frank's guitar take over for a bit ... and then we get it. I cannot stress enough how much I absolutely love the violin solo that then proceeds to own something like the next ten minutes of the track (it disappears for a little bit in favor of some piano, but let's not be picky). My preferred analogy to describe how I hear it is to say that it's as if the first half of the album has been placed upon on a sacrificial altar, and the violin solo is the soundtrack to the ritual act itself, but even then I'm not sure I'm accurately conveying my thoughts on it. It's just ... it's just unbelievable. It creates some tension as it goes along, yes, but it also (in my mind, anyway) manages to wipe away a huge chunk of its own tension and the remaining tension from the first side, which (along with being absolutely awesome on its own) is enough to make me adore it.

The piece goes on a bit more after the solo is done, dissolving a good 95% of the remaining tension, calling up some of the themes from side one for good measure (more later), and then ends to a thundering burst of applause. Then it's off to "Valerie," and we're done. Which brings me to point two, the symmetry of the album. Let's see, the album starts and ends with a doo-wop member. "Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich" is immediately preceded by "Igor's Boogie (One)" and "Overture to a Holiday in Berlin," and immediately followed by "Igor's Boogie (Two)" and "Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown." Side one ends with an extremely beautiful piano-and-harpsichord based instrumental in "Aybe Sea" (heh), then side two begins with a minute of piano improvisations. Ooh, and don't forget about the very end of "Little House" featuring not only a return to the same organ-driven instrumental texture as the start of the track, but which also quotes "Aybe Sea" in parts! Hell, there's probably more of these things that I'm forgetting about, and what's here is already impressive.

Part three regards the way Zappa manages to make the album so representative of The Mothers' career despite theoretically not doing so. He manages to bring in the doo- wop/sarcastic pop side, the occasional dissonance-for-its-own-sake side, the nods-to-jazz side, the genre-fusion side, the wow-that's-intricate-stuff side, and even the cultural-war side ("Take that uniform off!" "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself."). To a large degree, one could argue that the whole gist of the band's career is summed up by those characteristics; it misses out on a lot of the finer details, of course, but for an album with only nine tracks, hitting that much of the band's essence is pretty impressive.

And, finally, there's an aspect here that is not routinely found in other Zappa albums, and that is actual emotional resonance (as opposed to mockery of resonance, which is the closest thing to it that was usually achieved in the other albums). There is unironic beauty to be found in tracks like "Holiday in Berlin," "Aybe Sea" and "Little House," and from a man like Zappa, who seemingly devoted most of his life to mocking beauty, that is truly something to behold.

So that's a good start to summarizing why I like this album so much, more than any other Zappa I've heard, and enough to put it in my overall top 50. I enjoy it to pieces, and it works on so many intellectual levels at the same time that I can't help but also feel wonder at its overall construction. A Zappa collection without this (and it can exist, because it doesn't get publicized as much as many of his other albums do) is really missing the heart and soul of the man.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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