|01-18-2021, 07:03 PM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: May 2020
Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention (Discography Review)
Weasels Ripped my Flesh-Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Released after the original Mothers of Invention (Freak Out!, We're Only in it for the Money) disbanded in 1969, Weasels Ripped My Flesh is composed of both live largely improvisational pieces as well as studio pieces (some of which are remembered as quintessential moments in Zappa's catalogue).
As a studio record, Weasels is also one of the most difficult early Mothers' records as well as Zappa's solo releases. This is mostly because of the live studio works that showcase Zappa's interest in avant-garde classical composers and other forms of free-form experimentation. In fact the first selection off the record is a piece titled Didja Get Any Onya whose strangely timed and discordant riffs are accompanied by a free-form brass section that resemble the accompanying score to a fight scene in an old prehistoric movie. The improvisations are later joined by exaggerated operatic voices and speech that seem to be from the perspective of someone living during the rise of the Third Reich. The aggression of the music and the violence of the subject matter is made even more alien and incongruous due to the subtle (and crude) sexual nature of the title. This approach of juxtaposing the absurd and the sexual are found in other of the improvisational tracks as well. For example, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask borrows the title from the Claude Debussy piece most likely as a symbolic juxtaposition of the wild, cacophony of his own piece.
Other pieces on the album seem to resemble movie music in one way or another. Get a Little is a sleazy, psychedelic blues track that sounds like it was intended for some teenage, hippie era exploitation movie that was common at the time. Toads of the Short Forest (a title and piece that sounds like something that could be found in a Super Mario Bros. game) and Dwarf Nebula revisits the kind of modern-classical and orchestral works that characterize the Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat, and Burnt Weeny Sandwich releases. The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque humorously earns its title through Zappa's Dolphy-like arrangement (in its chromatic-ish structure and use of the vibraphone as its main melodic center) that also occasionally resembles the score from a cheesy science fiction movie. The humor, of course being that the barbeque in the title is meant to signify the cheesy science fiction element (and Zappa's own acknowledgement of his musical pretensions). However, it may also be less about self-parody and more an expression of Zappa's conviction of the artistic credibility of what would then (and in some cases still) be considered art or creative endeavors that are merely commercial and lacking the aesthetic value of a Mahler or a Michelangelo.
Most listeners, I assume, will find the most interesting tracks (if there are any for them) to be My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama, Directly From my Heart to Yoursand Oh No. In that order. Guitar is a Rolling Stones inspired blues rock song about the protagonists frustration with his inability to get with his girl of choice because her Mother claims that he is no good and is a ruffian because of his musical addiction and the life that is involved with it (the irony being that this restriction leads him back to his guitar to try to expel the rage he feels towards her Mother). Probably most peoples favorite Mothers song because it is (surprisingly, given Zappa's often scathing attitude towards fifties and sixties rock music of all kinds) an absolutely remarkable example of the virtuosic ability of the band to take an already established form (the song is structured, in lyrics and form, like the Stones' Satisfaction) and stamp their trademark on it. The trademark being the solo sections in the middle of the otherwise very raw and gritty rock song. It's this kind of experimentation that arguably led to Zappa being remembered as an originator of more experimental rock that would be found in the 70s. It's influence can be directly or indirectly heard in everything from Black Sabbath to AC/DC to endless prog rock acts (Zappa was recently celebrated in Loudersound magazine as being the 18th greatest musician in prog rock history).
Directly from My Heart to Yours is another example of Zappa and co.'s fascination with rhythm and blues. The song is an interpretation of a Little Richard song but lacks the overt parody (stylistic or otherwise) that characterized many of the songs off the Freak Out! album. The song begins with an emotionally drenched violin solo that whines and moans like it had just taken a series of fists to the gut. The interpretation is largely straightforward, but in typical Mothers fashion the performance is slightly exaggerated and the musicians play their instruments as if they had been drinking. This has mostly an emotive effect on the song, giving it an extra edge that makes it especially compelling.
Oh No is an orchestral favorite of Zappa's that originally appeared on the Lumpy Gravy record but was revised repeatedly through the course of his career. The version on this recording features a vocal performance by Ray Collins who apparently didn't want to sing the lyrics Zappa had written. Often interpreted as a parody on the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love" it is arguably a definitive culmination of what Zappa saw as attitudes and rituals regarding love that could be found across the political spectrum which lacked authenticity of all kinds and were tantamount to some sort of self-induced dictatorship or self-inflicted mental illness (depending on which camp you were in). The song, relatively simple and melodic, given the nature of many other Mothers recordings, is musically symbolic of this. The main theme is conventionally written in D Major without any free-form improvisations, interval experiments, or even minor chromatic walkabouts. Despite the somewhat distant vocal performances by Ray Collins and the apparently unknown background vocalists (or at least uncredited for some reason), the song is written very straight and near its end even comes close to resembling the ensemble of a Sinatra or Dean Martin. At its close, the song becomes The Orange County Lumber Truck, which begins with more characteristically light and pleasant brass sections with the gradual accompaniment of some of Zappa's greatest solo guitar accomplishments to this point of his career (arguably ever).
For the casual Zappa listener (if such a thing exists in great quantity) or even someone not familiar with Zappa at all, Weasels is not the first choice. Try Apostrophe or Overnite Sensation or even the more crudely commercial Strictly Commercial. I personally bought this album in approximately 2015 and have only recently been able to properly digest it (I've been learning music theory and the like). It's strangeness and complexity will most likely confuse and alienate and lead the typical consumer to think nasty things about Zappa and his Mothers (something that always troubled Zappa, as he claimed that it was avant-garde music like Varese and Stravinsky that was the music that was most easily relatable to him without the assistance of musical training and a firm knowledge of musical history and theory). For those interested in art history though, Weasels is an album that fits in well with discussions of dadaism, hippiedom, the classical avant garde, the jazz avant garde, pop art, surrealism, socio-political criticism in the arts, and the place of popular culture and rock music in the university.
Last edited by sufferinsukatash; 02-04-2021 at 11:46 PM. Reason: typos and image
|02-08-2021, 08:38 PM||#2 (permalink)|
Join Date: May 2020
Waka Jawaka-Frank Zappa
Released in conjunction with Bizarre/Reprise and attempting to ride off of the relative success of the original Hot Rats album, which helped seal Zappa's reputation as a talented composer as well as guitarist (nevermind an incredible bandleader who got incredibly talented musicians to work with him), Waka Jawaka is partly instrumental jazz ("Big Swifty", "Waka Jawaka") and partly song-based (relative to the times...and then some).
The first side (I have the original LP) consists of the ensemble track "Big Swifty" which clocks in as the longest piece on the album. It begins with a somewhat mariachi flavor (with the expected warping that characterizes anything Zappa touches) which later branches off into Miles Davis-esque jazz improvisation as well as Bernard Herman-esque science fiction movie music.
Alternating between 7/8 and 3/4 time (zappa-analysis)
The improvisations are at once a showcase of Zappa's compositional skills (how he can seamlessly blend composition with free(ish) improvisation) as well as a showcase for the musicians themselves. Aynsley Dunbar, easily one of Zappa's most energetic drummers, helps establish the music he made with him as some of the heaviest, most rock oriented (friendly) fusion music ever. Tony Duran is a good duo soloist with Zappa. Marquez's "many trumpets" makes you wish they worked together more often, George Duke is his typical demigod self, and Zappa plays some of his most adventurous and seemingly controlled guitar playing to date. Gradually, the opening things are reintroduced and the piece winds down, suddenly stopping at the 17:26 mark.
Side two begin with the song "Your Mouth". Lyrically, it sounds like a blues song. One can imagine B.B. King saying lines like
Well you can be a big fool
If she makes you loose your cool, and so
I've got me some advice you should try
Just let her talk a little
Oh, just let her talk a little more
Just... just let her talk a little more"
to the crowd at Regal as he grasps Lucille in his hands and smiles as they laugh and cheer him on for the next song. Musically though, it could be an Allman's Brothers tune, despite the presence of "many trumpets" and the slide guitar playing slightly exaggeratedly (possibly intending to take a friendly jab at the rock-jazz competition). But I'm not too sure. Needless to say the composition it is all very Zappa.
"It Just Might be a One Shot Deal" might just be the strangest song/piece off the record. It's probably about drugs. Hallucinogens to be sure. The lyrics involve frogs with satchels dumping sand on the ground after which a forest then pops up from the floor. There are then reassurances that it's okay to be scared but that one must make sure that one is in the process of having a good time. Yeah. This all occurs while an amusingly reserved vocalist (Janet Ferguson) sings in rhythmic communion with more cartoony slide guitar. Later there's some more funny Scottish pub vocals. It is also my favorite track off the record. The guitar solo is very loop worthy.
The last piece off the album is the title track. It sounds like it was jammed out the same day as "Big Swifty" and has the same mariachi-esque vibe. The bassline is hypnotic and carries the composition. The horns and trombones get some nice soloing in. Then George Duke takes over and it becomes a psychedelic space BBQ. This is followed by more horns, a guitar solo, a fairly complicated and impressive drum solo, and the main themes again.
All in all, a very compelling release.
1) Big Swifty
2) Your Mouth
3) It Might Just Be a One-Shot Deal
Though not especially remembered out of any stage of Zappa's career the album stands out as an exemplary example of the musicianship he could attract and develop. It is also, though it can be hard to hear at first glance, one of his most accessible records despite the obvious quirks contained within. It stands as a very compelling moment of his development as a guitarist too. Some who are new to Zappa, depending on what kind of listener you are might want to start with some of the tracks off this recording. It's not the most difficult or blatantly avant-garde and it's not the most offensive and it's not classical (Zappa is weird on classical terms, nevermind other genres). It is however wildly imaginative and relatable to other jam bands like Phish, The Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers. It's fusion jazz in the vein of Miles Davis. And, despite what some may say, the performances are not wooden. It can be a little weird for weirds sake though, but that's just Zappa.
Last edited by sufferinsukatash; 02-17-2021 at 12:19 PM.
|02-24-2021, 05:18 PM||#5 (permalink)|
Join Date: May 2020
Next to Overnite Sensation, Apostrophe (') is an audience favorite and apparently his best-selling ever (wikipedia). Coincidentally, it is also the album that contains lyrics and subject matter often referred to as childish, child-like, and generally immature. Consider, for example, "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow's" doggy wee wee humor and the masturbation jokes on "Nanook Rubs It".
Today, Zappa is remembered for other things and one gets the impression that this was (at least a little) commercially motivated. Why mention this? Because penis jokes are the least interesting thing about the album in the first place. Commercially motivated, it never seems merely "sellout" or even remotely compromising (all things considered). The musicianship, an extension of the Hot Rats era lineup and nearly identical to the aforementioned Overnite Sensation, is astounding. Zappa's guitar work is among his best (especially the fills on "Snow" and the intro to the title track); a good source of musical humor (and mood) is Ruth Underwood's percussion; and the R'n'B influenced rock and roll is in the best hands possible. Speaking of which, the band are more of a groove oriented band now (not like when they were "freaking out" as the original Mothers. And alongside all the silliness and fancy, there's "Uncle Remus", one of Zappa's anti-racism songs (possibly a reflection of his group at the time which featured white and Black performers alike).
Aside from a greatest hits type compilation, the first choice for newcomers to Zappa in my opinion (Sheik Yerbouti considered) even though some of the humor and content is out of date to today's political ideals ("Nanook").
1) Don't Eat the Yellow Snow
2) Nanook Rubs It
3) St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast
4) Father O'Blivion
5) Cosmik Debris
6) Exintrifugal Forz
7) Apostrophe (')
8) Uncle Remus
9) Stink Foot
|02-25-2021, 05:19 AM||#6 (permalink)|
Join Date: Jan 2021
Not sure if 'Your Mouth' is the song that come him signed. From watching the Zappa documentary, he was playing a blues sort of song when a record exec spotted him and signed him thinking all of his songs were blues ish ha.