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Frank Zappa - Hot Rats CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.34 | 1683 ratings

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4 stars The start of a long chain of strange, brilliant albums that bodge together jazz, rock, blues, doo wop and 20th century classical music, sometimes messily, sometimes with grace. Hot Rats is often considered to be Zappa's best album; all I can say is that it is a strong one. Melodies are plentiful at times, totally absent at others, in all the right places it seems. But I suppose it's the improvisation that is the main draw here, spectacular on every track, particularly Zappa's guitar playing and the saxophone of multi-istrumentalist Ian Underwood. Sometimes, themes or solos outstay their welcome for the wrong reasons (i.e. the build-up of tension or growth in sound has already passed it's event horizon, and we are trapped in a single chord sequence for a further few minutes of pure pointlessness). That fact is a shame for Zappa, because it makes his naturally exciting music become boring at times.

'Peaches' is a wonderful song, the only 'song' on the album, despite it being an instrumental. The piece is highly structured, and besides from it's lovely harmonies and upbeat feel, the point of interest is it's contrasting use of timbre. In a completely different way, 'Willie The Pimp' showcases the tightness of this ensemble even more, but is mainly a vehicle for Zappa's expert grasp of blues guitar soloing. Does his skill justify the track's length though? A matter of debate. 'Son of Mr. Green Genes' contains a better balance of the sensibilities of the previous two tracks. Variation is to be found, but over a repeated set of chords. What more can we expect from early jazz rock? This piece is performed brilliantly and highlights Underwood.

A welcomely brief slice of fusion is 'Little Umbrellas', which less desperately comes across as an attempt to shove everything Frank Zappa stands for down one's throat all at once than some of his other compositions, working in it's ultimate favour. Pieces like this, and the slightly avant-garde yet accessible 'It Must Be A Camel', bring the variation and charm to this album that make it so especially deserving of being heard. The mammoth 'Gumbo Variations' comprises a jam in several sections, which are similar in composition but executed differently. It's a fun thrill-ride, and the main focus, which is the improvisation of the sax, guitar and violin, is nothing short of virtuosic. Not for the faint hearted, but something that will appeal more to jazz fans than rock fans, despite being more rocky in nature.

Hot Rats, and Zappa's work in general, contains quite a unique sound. It has an intimate studio feel, with playing that is enjoyable if often over- enthusiastic about itself. More frequent changes of mood and tempo would improve the overall effect, but this is still a record I really enjoy listening to.

thehallway | 4/5 |


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