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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: One Size Fits All CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.32 | 926 ratings

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4 stars I don't think I've ever been this unenthused about writing a review for a solid **** album before. There just comes a point where you have to ask yourself: how many weird rhythmic left-turns, or great guitar/synth/vibe breaks, or clever bizarre post-modern lyrics, or whatever else that Zappa throws onto this album, can a person handle before that person starts to get bored with them? If your answer to that question is along the lines of, "This is a stupid question, why the hell would somebody get tired of these things?" then feel free to boost the rating by a point. Alas, when I listen to this album, my general thought process ends up going something like this: "Huh, boy, that's a neat instrumental passage, huh, look at that, another slam of mainstream society, huh, boy, I wouldn't have expected something like that weird break here, is this album over yet?"

What's really weird about this album is that, for all of its eccentricities (and boy, there are a lot of them), the central core of it is semi-mainstream slick commercialized 70's jazz rock. I get the feeling that Zappa really wanted to satisfy both the "normal" fans who had jumped on board with Overnite Sensation and Apostrophe, on the one hand, and the olden-day instrumental freak-out (pun sorta intended) fans who loved when Frank and co. would start wanking in all directions, and the end result certainly does an adequate job of providing satisfactory elements for both. Honestly, though, it's not done in a way that I find ideal; I find myself longing for a bit more grit in the final product, rather than the technically perfect but rather (in my opinion) soulless sounds and instrumental techniques that dominate. It really comes down to where your music priorities are; if you find yourself judging the quality of music primarily by the technical prowess and compositional "sophistication" involved in making this (in other words, if you're a big fan of "King Kong" or "The Grand Wazoo"), or if you instinctively go "yay!" at anything that has a heavy jazz influence (see previous parentheses), you'll probably adore this album. Personally, I like a little more function to go with my form, a little more solid offensive line play to go with my Pro-Bowler wide receivers and running backs, and a little more effort in the melodies than I get here.

But sheesh, I've done nothing but whine in this review so far. Let's change directions and look at the good parts, which are many. The band is the same as on Roxy, and while it's not as flabbergastingly engaging in its tightness as on that semi-live album, it's still the most impressive he'd had to that point (and quite probably his most impressive ever). Frank's guitar techniques have only gotten better, and that says something; his soloing in "Andy" (a bizarre mix of 70's funk/pre-disco and prog-lite) is almost beautiful, and he gets great leads all over the place on the rest of the album. The rest of the band is similarly fantastic; "Inca Roads" is probably overlong, but the cool synth, vibe (and of course) guitar breaks save it from being even close to unenjoyable.

Switching gears, Frank's perverse sense of humor is all over the place on this album; it's less concentrated than on, say, Overnite, but it's still omnipresent. Going back to the opening "Inca Roads," it does get a little tiring after a while when the vocals riff on weird bits like "guacamolequeenguacamolequeenguacamolequeen..." but for the most part the bizarre call-and-response passages work with the lyrics in a satisfactory way. The first "Sofa" track doesn't make much sense when you first hear it, but when you hear the closing second part, with Frank and co. singing as bombastically in German as they can while delivering their ludicrously mundane lines (the english translation is, "I'm here and you are my sofa"), the two parts become a laugh riot (I agree with George Starostin that it would have been more effective to switch the order of the two; having the instrumental close things out as a reprise would have been a perfect capstone).

The album also seriously rocks in places. "Can't Afford No Shoes" is a great piece of semi- compact riff rock, with lyrics about begging in the streets that are disturbingly fun (I love the way they do the line, "Hey anybody, can you spare a dime? If you're really hurting a nickel would be fine!"). "Pojama People" (deeeuhr, this isn't thematically similar to "Plastic People" in the least bit, nope, not at all) is an effective piece of intense, jazzy blues-rock that has low-key power running through it (and yes, low-key bluesy power can rock), and dang if that isn't an awesome guitar solo. And finally, "San Berdino" does a good job of aping "average" mid-70's rock, mixing redneckiness with the standard Zappa elements with flair.

I'm also rather fond of the totally genre-ambiguous "Florentine Pogen," which I'm almost tempted to name my favorite of the album except for the fact that it kinda makes me droop around the five minute mark. Ah well, with a little more energy it could actually have fit in well on Roxy; as is, its weird mix of "normal" music with all of the weird harmonic trappings and rhythmic "disturbances" that normally go with Zappa makes it intriguing.

In the end, then, I really like most of this album's component parts, but as an album, it falls a little short of where the individual tracks say it probably should be. I guess I just feel like the album, in trying to be so "artsy" while still being vaguely accessible, holds back too much of its potential in either direction. Make no mistake, though, there are no obvious low points on this album (even the throw-away "Evelyn, A Modified Dog" is oddly fun), and a Zappa album with this set of positives and with no song-specific flaws is practically guaranteed a high grade.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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