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


Frank Zappa



3.93 | 639 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars Out of nowhere, Zappa appeared on the music scene in July 66, a bit like a devil out of its box, but in Frank's case the box is the Los Angeles suburbs, even though his parents were from MY. I am not aware of Frank's previous achievement before starting this group, but the least we can say is that for a first album, his "savoir faire" and general knowledge or music culture are simply astounding for a first oeuvre, let alone the instrumental prowess that are present (even if often well-hidden) on Freak Out. Coming with an inspiring coloured-filtered photo artwork and the counter-culture-related titled, one could expect a psychedelic chef d'oeuvre, if it wasn't for the fact that this is a Zappa album and his legendary defiance of the hippydom and general derision of the music industry in which he participates. Even his group's name is a parody and indicates derision, although the industry forced him to change to the actual Mother Of Invention (I'll let you guess what the original name was). Amazingly enough, the album was released on the Jazz label Verve (but bought over by MGM) and the ex-Columbia Sun Ra producer Tom Wilson was so impressed that he got the label to spend over four times the usual amount on the production of a debut album, which in turn allowed that very album to pay for a 17-man orchestra and become one of the first double rock album ever (maybe Dylan's Blonde was first), but certainly the first double debut album.

Behind the sheer genius of the master of ceremony, his overall oeuvre is marked by a general goofy humoured attitude, a vast but not-always properly-used musical knowledge and a will to propose inventive and original music - at least within the typical Zappa realm and especially in his early oeuvre. Among the wide array of influences you'll find in Zappa's early works are 50 & 60's pop music (doo-wop and surf music amongst other) and all kinds of jazz, from the big band era until the more modern and freer forms, and his most important modern/contemporary classical music influences. Needless to say that such a wide-spectrummed array of influences can only clash at times, but also produce some magic moments. Behind the general awe one has hearing such a quagmire of music, there are some "flaws" (IMHO) that will always set aside Frank from the rest of the progressive rock field, although his influences on many "prog" acts is all too obvious, despite Frank's refusal to belong in a caste or clique. It is this very (too?) wide spectrum of music produced by Frank that will provoke a certain uneasiness from the European public (at least in a first time) and will be regarded as an anarchist and clown (a freak) attacking the more serious counter-culture, more than a genius; this so until Frank's first "solo" (Motherless) album called Hot Rats, a much more focused effort.

Let's get back to Freak Out, where the general Zappa realm is already well-established, filled with parody songs, "dumb" sketches/dialogues (at least not bearing repeated listens), semi-debilistic doo-wop mixed with more serious jazz and classical music (the latter being still rare in this debut), sound collages experiments and normal (everything relative of course) rock music with the psych overtone of the era. The whole thing thrown in a big pot where short songs alternate with rarer longer instrumental tracks, often linked (most of the time abruptly and sometimes downright clumsily >> this IS a first album) and assembled together. The first eleven short (max3:30) tracks are made of the afore-mentioned happy quagmire of parodic music, but the much longer (between 6 & 12 minutes) last three tracks are the ones that most progheads will probably remember best, including Trouble Everyday and the extended Help I'm A Rock (where you can feel Beefheart's influence). The album finishes on the extremely strange Monster Magnet, where the famous Suzy Creamcheese myth is born among the weird electronic noises born from knob twisting and other experimental techniques of the times.It is this album that coined the famous Wowie Zowie term as well.

The album was a slow seller at first but soon developed pockets of cult-status regions throughout North America and Continental Europe. It took a tour of the UK to convince the Brits to search the import version of the album, since it was only released as a single disc there. Definitely not an easy album or first oeuvre, and not exactly recommended as an intro to Francesco's world of music, Freak Out must be heard, even if only because it is Zappa's first oeuvre, just to realize how ahead of the field he already was.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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