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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Freak Out! CD (album) cover

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: FREAK OUT!

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.93 | 639 ratings

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The Anders
5 stars Along with the compilation The Lost Episodes which consists of mostly previously unreleased recordings, Freak Out was my introduction to the world of Frank Zappa (I copied it from CD to a cassette tape and bought The Lost Episodes on CD in 1997 when I was 13 years old).

Since I have a soft spot for the sort of weirdness and bizarre content that you'll get to hear in some parts of both albums, I tend to favour the 1960's Mothers of Invention over Zappa's later work. Well, there is really great stuff on albums like Apostrophe, but the early albums, though musically elaborate, have an anarchistic mood that is somehow missing in his later, more jazzy and more technically perfect productions with cream-of-the-cream musicians. His early creations sound more causal and spontanous to me, almost a bit punky, not to mention that they almost have it all: pop, rock, elaborate compositions with advanced harmonics and elements of both jazz and contemporary classical music, doo wop, avant-garde, musique concrete, weird sonic freak shows and witty satire. And they are funny as hell.

The good thing is, it is not just weird and funny for the sake of cheap laughs. There is a lot of seriousness behind it all: rebelliousness, criticism of society, and especially great compositional craftsmanship. You can be humorous and dead serious at the same time, and Frank Zappa is an obvious example of that.

The tone of Freak Out is set already in the first number, 'Hungry Freaks Daddy'. The verse is based on a groove which perhaps resembles the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction' a bit too much, but it is quickly clear that it has much more to offer. Apart from unusual instruments such as marimba and kazoo there's a surprising change of harmonic mode with the title phrase: From a mostly bluesy verse (ambiguity between higher and lower third), the title phrase surprises with the non-functional III-II-V-II progression, and a melody line paralleling the bass note at a fifth. Not exactly a usual pattern for the average pop listener. Similar patterns can be found in songs such as 'Ain't Got No Heart', 'I'm Not Satisfied' and 'You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here' (the latter contains an especially hilarious use of the kazoo).

Above that there is the harsh society criticism in songs like 'Hungry Freaks Daddy': 'Mister America walk on by / the schools that do not teach / Mister Amercia walk on by / the minds that won't be reached'. The tone is equally direct in 'Trouble Every Day' which ' on a musical level ' is more traditionally bluesy. I don't really know why that had to be the lead single from the album. The most radical song is perhaps 'Who Are the Brain Police' with its sinister, unstable harmonic structure and especially the instrumental middle section after the second verse.

At other times the album is using pop banality but deconstructing it. 'Wowie Zowie' could have been a simple love song, but then there are lines such as 'I don't even care if you brush your teeth'. 'Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder' is a break up song to a traditional vamp progression (I-VI-IV-V), but with a grotesque doo-wop choir in the background and a remarkably unsentimental lyric. 'Motherly Love' turns out to be about groupies whereas 'Amyway the Wind Blows' is perhaps the most conventional song on the album. Zappa sarcastically writes in the cover notes: 'If I hadn't got divorced, this trivial piece of nonsense would never have been recorded. It is included in this collection because, in a nutshell, kids, it is... how shall I say it?... it is intellectually and emotionally accessible for you'.

The tracks where Freak Out lives up to its name the most are the last two, 'Help I'm a Rock' (the last part is sometimes listed as a separate track, 'It Can't Happen Here') and 'The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet'. While I really enjoy these tracks for their complete craziness, it is harder to describe them from a musical point of view. In any case, the 'It can't happen here' section is extremely funny ('Whoooo... could imagine... that they would freak out in Minnesota.... Mi-mi-mi-mi-minesota' etc.).

The best part of the album is however the... if I may say so... 'real songs' which make up the first two sides and the beginning of side three. The compositional qualities are astonishing. It is never just weird, there is a lot of beauty in even the most elaborate chords and melody lines, and there is often a pop sensibility to it. Also the production deserves praise. It clearly goes further than most pop/rock had done up to this point with orchestral arrangements and unusual instruments. This high level of professionalism is however counterpointed by the anarchistic and sometimes purposely off-key singing, mostly by lead singer Ray Collins and with Zappa often singing backing vocals (perhaps most striking in the intro of 'Who Are the Brain Police'). But once again the balance between humour and seriousness is a big attraction of the album.

The Anders | 5/5 |

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