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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Uncle Meat CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.07 | 512 ratings

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4 stars 'Uncle Meat' was part of a project by Frank Zappa and the Mothers called 'No Commercial Potential'. The other albums in this project were 'We're Only In It For the Money', 'Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets', and 'Lumpy Gravy'. These 4 albums share a conceptual connection. Uncle Meat was also supposed to be a movie about the exploits of the band, but it never really got finished and the unfinished film finally got released in 1987. This album has a lot of the material and music that was going to be used in the final film, so this is why it is so varied in its style. Most of the album centers not so much on the lyrics, but on the instrumentals. There are also a lot of conversations amongst the band and etc that were going to be used in the movie.

One of the things that the critics were raving about on the album was the way it was edited and mixed. FZ used many interesting techniques to splice and edit the flow of the album together and these techniques and the equipment used was quite state-of-the-art. FZ wanted a cinematic sound on this album to match a movie soundtrack, which is partly what he was trying to achieve here, so he used his current group of musicians and hired some new ones, including Ruth Underwood, the amazing percussionist, who he hired on a whim. He utilized the equipment they had, including instruments, to mix the sound to make it sound like a full orchestra. There are even times when you can swear you are listening to a brass section, and it turns out it is just a few reed instruments processed through a mixer with adjusted speed. These things produce a much fuller sounding music.

The tracks are made up of quite a variety of Frank's styles including jazz, classical, r&b, doo wop, and rock, plus some field recordings of the band. All of these elements are melded together in an almost continual running bunch of tracks that run and segue into each other almost seamlessly. There are studio recordings and live recordings, sometimes it is very hard to tell which is which, and, like many of FZ's albums, sometimes switching back and forth from studio to live in the same track. This album is an excellent example of Frank's ability to manipulate sound and music in order to get the kind of end product that he felt was perfect.

So, there are so many tracks on this album to really do a track by track analysis. But the highlights here are mostly the instrumentals. There are vocal tracks here, but many of them are just snippets of songs, or they have been taken out of context, so they don't have the same effect as they would in their original form. But, that really doesn't take away from this album as much as it does in other instances, because, going into this knowing that it is supposed to be sort of a document of the band's history makes it all make more sense. Plus the fact that it runs so seamlessly makes it seem like these tracks were meant to be together. Frank said that if he took a knife to the tapes and spliced them together in a different order, that the finished result would still be the same, and he was meaning that by all of the albums in the 'No Commercial Potential' project.

So, if you have the vinyl copy, then the first 3 sides are a bunch of tracks that run the gamut of the band's style, from avant- garde jazz to classical to humorous novelty songs. Most of these tracks are all melded together with short snippets of audience participation and recorded conversations. It's left up to the listener to translate these tracks however they want. There are studio recordings and live recordings, some of these taken from long instrumental jams based off of the familiar themes that fans of the band know and love, like 'Dog Breath', 'King Kong', 'A Pound For a Brown' and the 'Uncle Meat Themes'. You also get a look into the band satirizing 'Louie Louie' as they often did, where an audience member jumped up onto the stage and wanted to play trumpet with the band. The fan thought it would be easy just to play anything avant-garde, but when Zappa had Don Preston climb up to the organ in the Royal Albert Hall (the organ was supposed to be off limits to the band, so Don had to literally climb up to it) and start playing Louie Louie, the fan couldn't keep up. You also hear FZ speeding up many recordings and manipulating sound through his favorite toy that he called the Apostolic Blurch Injector. This is pretty much what the album is made up of.

So what I just described is on the first 3 sides of the record, or the first disc of the CD release. The fourth side of the vinyl has several versions and solos taken from different recordings of 'King Kong' which is a popular theme used by Zappa on which he lets his band do improvisation and solos off of. The CD version, in contrast, starts off with an over 30 minute excerpt from the 'Uncle Meat' movie, followed by the track 'Tengo Na Minchia Tanta', and Italian song which literally means 'I Got A Big Bunch of Dick' sung by Italian rock journalist Massimo Bassoli and place here for some humorous reason, followed by another 3 minute excerpt from the movie. Those three tracks are not something that you would want to listen to too many times, so I actually prefer the vinyl version simply for the fact that those tracks are not on there. After that, the King Kong variations follow as on the vinyl.

So this album can be a good introduction to Frank Zappa in that you get a little taste of everything here. Listening to it without knowing what it is about can be confusing and frustrating, but if you understand a little better what is going on here, then it makes everything more enjoyable. There is probably a bit more avant-prog music on here than a lot of people would like, but that doesn't bother me, and a lot of the humor is in the music itself here more than in the lyrics. But, if nothing else, the album should be recognized for the editing and mixing techniques that were used during a time when this type of recording was very difficult to make. In that respect, it is an innovative recording, at least for the time that it was made. It's not a perfect album, but it is entertaining and has a lot of great performances on it.

TCat | 4/5 |


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