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Frank Zappa - Freak Out! CD (album) cover

FREAK OUT!

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.89 | 432 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Frank Zappa would release better albums, with and without the Mothers of Invention. But let's put the achievement of "Freak Out!" into historical perspective. What was musically hot in 1966? Well, the Mamas and the Papas had two songs in that year's Billboard Top Ten, and The Monkees were there too ("Last Train to Clarkesville"). But the Number One hit of that bygone year was "The Ballad of the Green Berets" by Barry Sadler: solid proof that we desperately needed someone like Frank Zappa at the time.

There are a lot of ways to approach the Mothers' debut album: as affectionate rock 'n' roll parody; biting music biz commentary; cage-rattling social satire; uncomplicated teenybopper pop; even embryonic Krautrock (more about that later). Together they add up to an all-of-the-above, five-star accomplishment, successfully juggling each brightly colored conceptual egg without allowing so much as a hairline crack to show.

Later Zappa efforts might choose a particular weapon for his ongoing fight against the status quo: avant-garde noise; virtuoso Fusion; smutty humor. But the genius of "Freak Out!" was that it managed to overturn the mainstream applecart without bruising any of the fruit. The lovelorn teen romance of "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder", the giddy bubblegum conventions of "Wowie Zowie", can all be accepted at face value, or parsed for (not so) hidden subversive meanings, with equally gratifying results.

The joke would turn to vitriol in the album's final tracks, beginning with "Trouble Every Day", one of the cornerstone protest songs of the 1960s, and even more relevant in the widening schism of the 21st century. But the weirdness wasn't confined to Side Four of the original LP: note the complete structural breakdown in the middle of "Who Are the Brain Police?", or the cutting-edge lyrics driving the album opener "Hungry Freaks, Daddy".

This may sound chauvinistic (and maybe a little pompous), but "Freak Out!" was a very American record, by a quintessential American artist. But while the album didn't excite anything more than cult interest in the U.S. (attracting likeminded musical misfits like the RESIDENTS), it had an immediate impact overseas, and nowhere more than among the counterculture rebels of late '60s Germany. The hypnotic one-chord mantra of "Help, I'm a Rock" might have been designed as a Krautrock template; the dada collage of "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" was prototypical FAUST, a half-decade early; and if you remove the lyrics from "Trouble Every Day" what's left is hardly distinguishable from an early CAN jam.

(...a quick digression: The Mothers' appearance at the Essen Song Day Festival in 1968 was another watershed moment in Krautrock history. And the same event saw the splitting of the AMON DÜÜL commune into two competing bands.)

"You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here", Zappa sang in 1966. In retrospect the reason was obvious: to shake the dust from our cultural complacency and take aim at the failures of LBJ's Great Society, tongue firmly in cheek and finger steady on the trigger.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |

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