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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Absolutely Free CD (album) cover

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: ABSOLUTELY FREE

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.05 | 501 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Smother that girl in chocolate syrup"

Quite a step down from the debut masterpiece, but still good.

In the summer of 1966, Uncle Frank had released the iconic debut known as "Freak Out!" which showed that America had some heavy musical hitters of their own competing with the Brits. He had also settled into Laurel Canyon near LA where he would live the rest of his life save for a short time in New York. Still in 1966 he assembled the material that would become "Absolutely Free" and recorded it in just four days in November 1966. There had been some line-up changes, with Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Jim Felder, Jim Sherwood, and Bunk Gardner joining the fold. Mother Elliot Ingber was fired from the band for smoking too much weed, something Frank would not tolerate. Ray Collins remembered one night Elliot was so baked he was trying to tune his guitar while his amp wasn't turned on. Frank noticed, looked at Elliot, looked at the amp, then gave Collins a look which made clear Elliot's days of Motherhood were done.

The album was not released until summer 1967. The Mothers had moved to NY for gigs, Gail was pregnant with Moon, and the band were preparing for a European tour. Frank hastily married Gail just prior to Moon's birth to appease their Catholic parents, not something he was thrilled about. In late 1966 he told an interviewer that if he ever married again "I'd prefer a sterile deaf mute who likes to wash dishes. There are so many American women who fit that description philosophically I might as well own one." Calling his wedding with Gail "cheezy" and still sleeping around on the side, he took off for London just prior to Moon's birth when he could easily have juggled things to be there. Always the romantic. Anyway, it was against this crazy backdrop that Zappa and the Mothers were ready to give London a taste of absolute freedom.

The album is similar to Freak Out on the surface but after comparing them for some time I find this one less consistent, less sharp verbally, and just not as much fun as the debut classic. The style of music has shifted primarily from the Doo-Wop 50s/60s rock to a more noodly jazz style. This might appeal to some proggers as it is technically more adventurous and jammy, but I prefer the very easy-to-love rock of the debut because it contrasts so amusingly with the caustic messages. There are still some roots rock, blues, and showtune style stuff here but the music struggles more to connect. The second issue is that the monologue has dropped a notch or two. The debut's stories and rants are absolutely razor sharp, hilarious, relevant diatribes that never let up. This time around the whole vegetable shtick is still amusing, but less so, and it gets a little long in places. Written so close to the first one, my theory is that the best ideas from the prior period went on the debut while the leftovers and the quickies went on Free. That said, tracks like "Call Any Vegetable" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" are Zappa classics. It's hard to believe he was able to get the latter track past the censors as it had to be pretty saucy for 1967.

All in all, the first three Mothers albums form a great trilogy of work. They sound like musical siblings, but with each having a slightly different dominant music style and a different focus to the humor. I would loosely summarize Freak Out as "why society sucks" to Doo-Wop rock; Absolutely Free as "don't be a brain dead plastic person" to zestier jamming with some jazzy overtones; We're Only In It For The Money as "don't be a vacant hippie stoner" to mocking psych-insanity. For my money the debut is the best, the 2nd is the least great, and the 3rd is hilarious but not as memorable as the first. If you're wondering where to start with the Mothers, my recommendation is at the beginning (rated that one 5 stars), which I think is the way to approach every classic artist. Enjoy hearing the progressions (or not) as they move on through the years.

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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