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Frank Zappa - Hot Rats CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.34 | 1682 ratings

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4 stars Phenomenal Introduction to a Genius

Hot Rats is the highest rated Zappa album on PA, contains perhaps his most famous song "Peaches En Regalia," and is probably the most frequent entry point for fans into Zappa's vast catalog. This was the case for me, and certainly this strange music is like being dunked fed some new exotic cuisine, where you're not quite certain what the funky spices are. Usually one either learns to love the flavor, or runs away in disgust. My reaction was instead a guarded interest. And luckily I wandered around the catalog a bit until I found the exact dish for my palate, along with some selections that did little for me. However, the fact that I like one facet of Zappa's musicianship (ultra-complex jazz composition) and don't like the camp or stage-y stuff, is just a matter of taste. There are going to be some who gravitate to different albums, different smells, different kinds of funk.

Hot Rats is going to appeal to the musician types more than the potty mouth lovers, but it's still a great place to start for anyone. The musicianship is very good, though not as insanely complex as that found on "One Size Fits All" or "Roxy." The album contains several very long sections of jamming, most of which are quite good. The guitar tone during the long improvised end of "Willie the Pimp" is way ahead of its time and the licks are so great. At the same time, 90 seconds of song followed by 9 minutes of jamming doesn't exactly press my prog buttons that much.

There are many ways one could merge jazz and rock, and Frank has managed to create a style that is fairly distinct from the bands formally labeled jazz-rock fusion. Zappa integrates more rock into a jazz that is much more structured and at times composed than Mahavishnu or Return to Forever. This shouldn't surprise given his affinity for classical music and writing movie score music from early in his career. His famous opinion, that there should be no difference between pop and high art, results in an accessible but still quirky sound that really has never been duplicated.

Listening back over Hots Rats again for this review, there are moments where I think "This really should be 5 stars." Some of the moments are just spectacular, with guest musicians Jean-Luc Ponty and Captain Beefheart taking strong tunes and upping the interest even more. But two things keep it at excellent rather than masterpiece level. First are the numerous extended jams over fairly basic progressions and time signatures. While interesting, it's hard to call an album relying so heavily on this element a masterpiece of prog. Second, I know Zappa does produce the kind of combined, precise complexity that reaches that summit later in his career.

I absolutely recommend this album, especially for newbies to Zappa. It's a great piece of work. But once you've gotten accustomed to the strange combo of spices he puts in the stew, there are even more tasty morsels awaiting.

Negoba | 4/5 |


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