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Frank Zappa - Hot Rats CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.34 | 1683 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 74, Hot Rats, Frank Zappa, 1969

Hot Rats is, as I understand it, one of Zappa's sacred cows. I think I can understand why: the playing is flawless, the first couple of pieces are highly entertaining and its mixture of jazzy and avant garde isn't too heavy on either component. My 'good' rating (which will surely be seen as a travesty, but that's that...) is not because I dislike the music much in any particular place, nor because I don't think the playing's great, but just because the album has such a thin emotional tie to me.

The opener Peaches En Regalia, a sample here, opens straight into a cool, classy array of saxophone leaps and whimsical piano flourishes. Zappa's light-hearted rather banjo-like guitar fits perfectly in, and cheery organ swirls meet some hollow percussion whirls. Behind the interlinked leads, the rhythm section wanders about cheerily. All in all, an active, bouncy and highly entertaining piece.

Willie The Pimp is the album's obvious highlight for me. A compulsive, edgy violin riff underlines the piece, accompanied by a mobile bassline and superb drumming from John Guerin. Zappa's own skills particularly come to the fore in this piece, with an extensive, gritty guitar solo, sometimes picking up on the earlier violin part before launching into manic swirls. A few fun piano and percussion flourishes are thrown in. In addition to these worthy features, Beefheart provides a brief amusing vocal complete with general screeching and trite lyrics. Classy stuff.

Son Of Mr. Green Genes is where the album begins to take a bit of a nose dive in connection. While the previous pieces weren't really less jazzy and whimsical, they kept a constant connection and interest. Here, we have many of the same trademarks, neat piano from Ian Underwood, an array of sax and organ effects reeling off from Zappa's range of guitar sounds and wails. At about 3.00 in, the piece catches on quite effectively with a low sax bada-badada theme before wandering off to another guitar solo. Occasionally, the piece does hit just right with a brief jot of darker guitar or a particularly neat effect, especially with the funktacular jumping around 7.00 in, but overall, it fails to make a cohesive impression on me. I think it's that the whimsy gets a bit much at times, or that the guitar lead so key to holding it together is a little thinner than I like, but the reason's difficult to pin down.

Little Umbrellas is a slightly darker piece in feel, with an especial highlight in the piano and organ-work, which ranges from tense chords to light keys to Super Mario soundtrack material, but, to be fair, it works. A slightly ponderous set of clarinet effects fill the background. Not really light, not really menacing, and it's alright, but it never really moves beyond that.

The Gumbo Variations is comfortably the album's longest piece, with a fairly standard jazzy background held up by the rhythm section, and organ underlaying a great strangled saxophone. The saxophone is probably the biggest tie for a fair while, as a couple of neat guitar additions come in then disappear. A squeaky violin appears to replace the sax, and Zappa himself takes a bit more of a position. The rhythm section keeps a mobility throughout, and a couple of stylish effects interplays run nicely over the top. The brief drum solo is probably the piece's high point for me. So, again, nice, but not a lot more. Absolutely top notch playing and interplay, but it simply doesn't really make an impression too often.

It Must Be A Camel is another highlight. After a wandering piano opening with a couple of cool slowed percussion ideas, and an almost obligatory irritating sax blare, it wobbles around for about a minute before Zappa comes in with entertaining guitar sounds all around and adds in a bit of dynamic before the piece comes to its conclusion. Nice, despite the moment of erk.

All in all, then, this album really has nothing bad on it. There are a couple of really great and fun moments in there as well. However, I feel it could have benefited a lot from a little more dynamic playing, and I really just won't listen to it for any other reason than wanting to hear the end of Willie The Pimp and feeling obliged to give the rest another go. I don't dislike it, but my mind just isn't connecting with the comic and musical genius that a lot of Zappa fans and even non-fans would ascribe to it.

Rating: Three Stars. Probably not essential, for me, but still a good buy. Favourite Track: Willie The Pimp

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |


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