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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Freak Out! CD (album) cover

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: FREAK OUT!

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.92 | 606 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars 1966's declaration of independence

"I think your life is incomplete"

I have a real thing for debut albums from this period. While many people describe Freak Out, Piper at the Gates, and Velvet Underground in terms of being "promising" and building for better things later, these early works are as exciting as later classics but in their own way. It's hard to imagine what people thought upon hearing something like "Freak Out" in 1966 and I try to put myself in that time frame when listening to early albums. While some continue to insist that Crimson created prog in 1969 it's my opinion that these earlier works are the true conception even if some want to write them off as "just psychedelia" or whatever. Many styles and influences are fused here in a work which screams at the public that it wishes to offend, it wishes to foul the water, to avenge Frank's incarceration, and to wear the badge of "outsider" with pride. But not just a rebel without a clue, Frank had it in for many of those who thought he was one of them, creatively and socially. He demanded authenticity and quality, he lectured his fans to forget about the Prom and go to the library, and he scolded them for their drug use, which didn't exactly endear him to his peers.

It is impossible to avoid discussing the political and social aspects of what the album's lyrics throw in one's face, so skip this paragraph if not interested in my personal opinion. No one's personal comfort zone and no institution's presumed honor would be spared over Frank's career. Years later Zappa would describe himself as "a conservative" (though certainly not in Republican terms, whom he hated, but by his own definition) and later still in one of his last interviews as "unrepentant" in his views. He was a true independent, whose blast against the establishment would not stop with the fashionable railing against government entities or right-wing easy targets, but extend to the counterculture scene and the Lefties whose dough-eyed vision of reality he would skewer on "We're only in it for the Money." Zappa's work would help progress the good things about the counterculture which turned out to be primarily artistic, while wisely remaining suspicious of much of the other nonsense the youth movement touted, some of which was destructive and hollow. In my opinion, Zappa, were he alive today, would rail as much against liberal groupthink and shallow political correctness as he did against right-wing censorship and Reaganism in the 80s or cultural stagnation in the 60s. Frank could really be lassoed by no one: he could be sexist, misanthropic, selfish, and even hypocritical on certain things (his daughter Moon has confirmed he was a less than stellar father even as he lectured other parents on their child-rearing.) He believed in being in control of one's life and practiced DIY musically and otherwise. (The book quoted below is a great source for insight into this complicated fellow and his beliefs.)

"Freak Out!" is an absolutely essential marker in rock history, it is Sha-Na-Na from hell, it is a Cheech and Chong styled Broadway musical with intellectual, razor sharp wit in place of adolescent drug humor. It is a warning shot from a dark stranger who grabbed the mic on talent night and gave the suburban audience some Lenny Bruce level stand-up which sent them home shaking their heads. People who complain about it being "just basic rock and roll" or "too 1950s" completely miss the point. It is about the contrast of the seemingly traditional with pure rebellion, about turning the realities of the moment on their head. Sure the pure musical adventure of later albums would be stimulating in their own way, but taking the seemingly safe and Motherizing it is no less fantastic, and the fact that many of the ditties are pleasing to sing along with can be an asset. The Mothers were perhaps no less than the west coast version of the Velvet Underground, though ironically Zappa and Lou Reed despised each other and openly dissed each other.

Certainly the music may seem rather basic period rock to today's prog fan, but after just a few spins these songs get under your skin as you realize how good they are. Basic blues-rock, DooWop, soulful romantic ballad, creeping psych and avant weirdness make up the template upon which Zappa's monologue is delivered. It works so unbelievably well, sounding completely flowing and cohesive. It entertains with humor even as it disturbs by tearing down the safe and getting weirder as the album staggers towards its end. The sexual innuendo and outright contempt for traditional sensibilities cannot be missed. The final four tracks are amazing, from Dylanesque rapping commentary in "Trouble Every Day" to the mind warping, songs-dissolving "Help, I'm a Rock" and "Monster Magnet." Sandwiched in there is my favorite little Freak Out song "It Can't Happen Here" which warns us stoic Midwesterners that the freaks were coming for us.

"Frank was delighted with the album. He showed up at his family's house...waving a copy of the album, a huge smile on his face. The music startled them, but Frank kept nodding encouragingly and no one expressed any misgivings. The whole family, even Francis, went to see the Mothers play... Freak Out was the first double-rock album, the first rock "concept" album and musically it was about as cutting-edge as a rock album could be without being classified as avant-garde jazz or modern classical. Over the years it has consistently been voted as one of the top 100 greatest albums ever made and even today it has not aged, even if the recording quality now seems a bit raw." --Barry Miles, "Zappa, A Biography"

"Freak Out!" is an authentic slice of history, a masterpiece of the sunrise of progressive music, and an essential title for a well rounded rock collection. Other Mothers albums would get technically better and Frank would expand his horizons greatly after the 1960s, but in my view the original burst of creativity on debuts like this hold charms as magical as later "definitive artist works." I've always felt there is something special about the albums that cooked up something fantastic with the most basic kitchen ingredients of the middle 60s. "Freak Out!" is as gritty and dangerous below the surface as "Exile on Main Street", but Frank delivered it nearly a decade sooner than the Stones.

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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