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Frank Zappa - Weasels Ripped My Flesh CD (album) cover

WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.77 | 274 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This, children, is what we call a "weed-out album." Where Sandwich was largely focused on the kind of 'beauty' that The Mothers could create on stage, Weasels is centered (at least, the first half is) around the other side of their performances, the atonal, abrasive jamming that was largely inspired by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Now, I'll be honest; the last time I had heard this album before starting to earnestly go through it was back in high school, and when I listened to the first half for, effectively, the first time, I absolutely hated it and dreaded the thought of ever having to hear it again. All those atonal vocal noises, from "Uhn!" to "Nee!" to whatever (with weird monologues in German accents), coupled with jamming that was a mile away from what I wanted to hear after Sandwich, made me feel deeply unpleasant, to say the least.

Fortunately, I came around to the first half a bit in the end. A BIT, mind you; I still can't shake the sneaky suspicion that people who worship music like this will worship anything that's sufficiently atonal as long as the texture is right (which, frankly, bugs me just as much as people who automatically put prog rock above "normal" rock), and I've long had an instinctive aversion to anything where I've felt like my respect for the object is supposed to occur as an automatic function of the existence of the object. On the other hand, though, there's quite a bit I've been able to fish out of the first half as "quality" material, even in the most abrasive tracks. I've come to love the driving, rhythmic atonal jamming that kicks off the opening "Didja Get Any Onya?," for instance; I can definitely feel the common source material with much of later King Crimson within these sounds. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" actually does about as good of a job of living up to its title as one could expect, as the various odd vocals certainly remind me of somebody wilting off into unconsciousness through a gas mask, which seems to be pumping aphrodisiacs, laughing gas and ether all at once (and I almost wonder; did Monty Python get their idea for knights who say "NEE!" from the "nee" noises on here?) Plus, it features the sound of what I can only describe as a hungry dog trying to eat the mic, so that's something.

"Toads of the Short Forest" is also rather neat, starting off relatively pleasant before entering a lengthy instrumental passage that features all the instruments playing different time signatures, except for the alto sax which, as Frank points out, "is blowing his nose." Throw in the blues/porno-music cross (I can't help it, that's what the wah-wah's here make me think of) of "Get a Little," and a cover of "Directly From My Heart to You" by Little Richard (featuring marvelously moody violin work from Don "Sugar Cane" Harris, making this the third straight album where he's had a brief starring role), and the first half actually ends up as fairly intriguing. On the whole, that is; far too many moments make me want to be anywhere else when I'm listening to them, but instrumental and stylistic schizophrenia is always a good way to win points with me in aggregate.

The second half is much more "normal," though it's bookended by more rough material. "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" never really picks up steam, if you ask me; it starts off mildly pleasant, but quickly morphs into another "free jazz" romp that doesn't even really have the gritty texture that made me like parts of "Didja." The title track, at the other end, is essentially a minute-and-a-half of noise (followed by applause), which I guess would have been the ideal way for a Mothers show to close, and is thus a fitting end to the album, but it's not gonna be a keeper on my iPod once this review is done, if you get me.

The neatest part of the album to my ears, then, is the stretch between those two tracks. "Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula" (I LOVE these titles) is a bit of a throwaway (one commentator on a prominent site says that this track invented video game music), but the next three are each wonderful. "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" is a marvelous mix of driving 70's Zappa sleaze rock (or least what he'd eventually start making in the 70's) that also has a wonderous mid-section consisting of blotches of synths, sax, acoustic guitar that fits in with the rest of the song in much the same way that, say, the mid- section of "Monkey Man" fits in with the rest of the track. "Oh No" (shown in a longer, instrumental version on Ahead of Our Time) is a great Money throwback, a direct answer to all of the songs that said "All You Need is Love" (uh, I wonder who that could be), and when it suddenly cuts into "The Orange County Lumber Truck," which I've loved since hearing it on Ahead, I'm almost willing to forgive everything that had annoyed me about the album up to that point. That said, I wish each of these three tracks were longer, but oh well.

So the question at hand is, given all my thoughts here, what rating I should give this album. I actually bounced around in a range between a middling *** and a solid **** (that's quite a bit of distance there), because I'm not sure how to resolve all my conflicting feelings about the album. In the plus column, the album effectively showcases a sound that no other band had, throwing in a small number of tracks I really really like, and overall has a lot of odd diversity that needs to be given due credit. In the minus column, well, I don't particularly enjoy listening to several stretches of it. In the end, I'm kinda leaning more to the good side (that *** is a very high one), because I do think it's a very worthwhile album. But man, this is not for the uninitiated. Proceed with caution.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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