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Frank Zappa - Uncle Meat CD (album) cover

UNCLE MEAT

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.15 | 343 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Uncle Meat was originally supposed to be a soundtrack to a film of the same name. It was started but the funds ran out. On the latest CD release you can hear some (a lot of) dialogue from the film as well as a hard rock song from the early 1980s about penis sung in Sicilian (I guess). The original double-album was way ahead of it's time, being both an influence on later jazz fusion and avant-rock. But it also contained some doo-wop and "Louie, Louie." The thing about Zappa was how he liked to mix the simple with the complex; the melodic with the dissonant; the silly with the serious. On this album he really brings these contradictions together for the first time, with his first few Mothers albums being considered comedy/novelty by some. Speaking of the Mothers we get an expanded version of the original line-up but even these musicians were not up to Zappa's standards; he would have to wait until the mid-1970s before he found musicians capable of performing his crazy musical ideas.

Zappa was mixing jazz and rock since his first album but here he goes even further. Between this album and Hot Rats he was making fusion at the same time as, but independent from Miles Davis. The avant-garde influence is also a lot stronger here than on earlier releases. You can tell a lot of later RIO groups were listening to this album. Some of the music here sounds similar to Lumpy Gravy. Some of it was recorded live (including "Louie, Louie" played on pipe organ at the Royal Albert Hall). There seems to be a little more acoustic guitar here than most Zappa albums. There are spoken word sections from Suzy Creamcheese, new member Ian Underwood (who will marry Ruth Komanoff, who also appears here) and Jimmy Carl Black. Not to mention the oddball sound effects you would expect to find.

The early Mother albums were recorded on 4-track and sound awful compared to the 8- track recording of Uncle Meat. Frank would go one step further with Hot Rats and be one of the first to record with 16 tracks. Both the production and musicianship here is a step above Frank's previous work. Again, it was just a lack of funds and talent that prevented him from realizing his musical vision. Don Preston makes good use of an electronic organ which sometimes sounds like a synthesizer. There is lots of wind instruments on the album and both Ruth and Art Tripp (who will work with Captain Beefheart in the future) introduce the mallet percussion that will become a staple of Zappa's music to come.

The main title is avant-classical with lots of mallet percussion. The last half sounds like the musical parts of Lumpy Gravy along with the avant noises of We're Only In It... "Nine Types Of Industrial Pollution" starts off with some Varese style percussion and bluesy guitar playing which sounds speed altered. The track gets more dense and dissonant as it goes along. "Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague" is one of the better vocal songs. Almost doo-wop meets jazz-rock. Nice female opera singer. I like the acoustic guitar playing here. Eventually everything gets sped-up and more avant and dissonant. Ends very orchestral. "The Legend Of The Golden Arches" is like a slower, jazzier version of "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus." Halfway you hear some harpsichord get joined by reeds; very classical sounding. Then Suzy relates a story.

Even though it's short, "Sleeping In A Jar" has one of the best musical themes. "The Uncle Meat Variations" is more avant-classical goodness. Much longer than the main theme. Halfway you hear some chipmunk vocals. Later turns more R&B/Rock'n'roll with a great twangy guitar that turns into blues-rock soloing. Great acoustic guitar at the very end. "Electric Aunt Jemima" is the best of the pure doo-wop songs. Some cool synth-like studio effects here. "Prelude To King Kong" is what the title says: a prelude to the orchestrated jazz-rock of "King Kong" later on the album, except this sounds more improvised. "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus" is a shorter, more classical take on "Legend Of The Golden Arches." Ian Underwood tells an amusing story in "Ian Underwood Whips It Out" and then it goes into a live recording of Ian wailing on a sax with repetative drumming behind him. The rest of the band slowly joins in.

"Mr. Green Genes" is a standout track and the father of the song on Hot Rats. Love the lyrics and how they follow the melody. Ends very symphonic. "We Can Shoot You" is more Varese inspired avant-classical with studio altering. Wind section talks for a bit then goes into some proto-chamber prog. "Project X" starts off with a melody on acoustic guitar which sounds almost exactly like a hit song from the late 1990s. I first heard Uncle Meat at a time when that hit song was all over radio/tv. When I first heard "Project X" I was stunned. (The song I'm taking about is called "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None The Richer). What an odd coincidence for two songs recorded 30 years apart. Before long some wind instruments, mallet percussion and drums come in and make everything dissonant, with the acoustic guitar melody still playing. Music stops and then wind instruments and electronic organ play in a dissonant way. More of a sense of rhythm and melody as the piece progresses.

"Crusin' For Burgers" is one of the best songs. I like how the song keeps changing, similar to some '70s Zappa. Seems longer than just 2 minutes. The beast that is "King Kong" is divided into 6 parts, all being one piece except part six which is mostly a live recording. The whole thing is ahead of it's time, sounding both like future Zappa and future fusion. Great soloing from the wind instruments. Good melodies. You don't hear much of Frank himself though. The keyboards are great. Part 5 is studio altered avant-garderie. Part 6 is mostly live, the last minute or so is more studio altered weirdness. Uncle Meat is both one of the first progressive rock albums and one of the most important. There was nothing else like it out at the time but the next few years would see an explosion of experimetal rock music. I can't really call this a 'masterpiece' of prog but it's importance cannot be denied. My final verdict is 4.5 rounded down to 4 stars.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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