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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: Absolutely Free CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.05 | 535 ratings

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4 stars The second studio album (and arguably first of many masterpieces) from Uncle Frank and the Mothers plays like an anarchic mock opera or freak show vaudeville routine: imagine the Marx Brothers adapting their trademark zany shtick for a rock 'n' roll audience in the psychedelic 1960s.

It's juvenile stuff, and deliberately so. But mainstream rock music was never more juvenile than when the album was first released, on the cusp of the Summer of Love. Zappa was at least learning to flex his iconoclastic muscles at the time, mixing the low comedy with some acutely observed social criticism aimed squarely at an American society he regarded as plastic and brain-dead (thus his fixation with vegetables in the opening song cycle here).

And, despite all the private jokes and frequently sophomoric wit, the music was remarkably sophisticated for 1967. It rarely sits still for more than a few bars at any given time, jumping from one nutty pastiche to another, lampooning amateur stage musicals, cocktail lounge crooners, and the already atrophied conventions of rock music itself.

Maybe the weirdest aspect of such a willfully weird album is how little it's aged after more than forty years. No one will fail to recognize it as a product of its era, but even then the album existed somewhere outside the narrow aesthetics of late '60s popular music. Discovering it for the first time (as I did, shamefully) four decades later can still be a thrill, as well as a giggle.

A personal postscript, and a belated epiphany:

I always believed the merry Krautrock pranksters of FAUST had played in a cultural vacuum, insulated from any Anglo-American musical influences. Now, after my late exposure to the early music of Frank Zappa, I have to reluctantly admit that one of my favorite bands was just a group of Zappa wannabes: Das Mütter von Erfindung, so to speak. Either that, or else Frank was a closet Krautrocker, long before the term was ever coined.

Compare, from this album, the toe-tapping 'Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin' to the very similar Faust groove of 'I've Got My Car and My TV'. Or the early Mothers single 'Big Leg Emma' (included here as a bonus track) to its Krautrock equivalent, 'The Sad Skinhead' (from 1973's 'Faust IV').

Clearly Frank and Faust were kindred musical nonconformists. But Zappa's pioneering example predates the Germans by a good half decade.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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