On this sea that is my journey of discovery with Frank Zappa, this is one of the releases I was most looking forward to listening along the way. Mainly due to the fact I remember seeing the cover for this album when I was very join and vowing to myself that I wanted to find out who did it. Artwork for me as I have said before is just as important to an album as the actual music itself. In the case of Frank Zappa, sometimes it can take away from some releases - see Uncle Meat for proof of this. However, this is the second posthumous release of Frank Zappa & The Mother of Invention after they were disbanded in 1969. This album was largely complied of live recordings and is supposed to be more song orientated that the preceding album ' Burnt Weeny Sandwich'. There are a few things I will say about this album, but saying it is song orientated is like saying I was born in America - ie, a lie (born the UK). It just goes to show how messed up 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich' must be for this to be classed as song orientated.
Starting off with the brilliant "Didja Get Any Onya?" it has a fantastic and joyfully manic beginning which is quite possibly one of the most insane beginning to an album, very manic and intense...till about the 56 second mark, when it descends into a jazz free from hell which is wonderful and full of interesting and strange movements and time signature changes and incomprehensibly lyrics. So the obvious way to follow this bonkers opening is with a Rock N Roll/Country & Western/8 bar blues hybrid in the form of "Directly From My Heart To You". It is a more civil affair than its opening cousin and it is almost a normal song, but I can feel the undercurrent of the band here; there is nothing safe and they will change their track soon - which the do with "Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Gas Mask". This is slap bang in the middle of the Jazz Fusion end of the Zappa spectrum which strange cries, feedback and reverb all over the shop.
Following this is the hippy instrumental "Toads Of The Short Forest" which sounds like it could be the opening music for one of those 70's comedy's until you get to the one minute mark where it goes into the strange territory again, and I love the sudden change of direction, it just hits all of a sudden and is designed to be uncomfortable. Also as this is a live recording you have Zappa quite the band down and explain the different rhyme signatures that the band are playing to create the beautiful mess that they are playing. Coming after this is "Get A Little" which is a nice free form blues number just going along with a lovely bit of feedback in the background which gives it a sense of menace like it might change at any section to a avant-garde wall of nightmarish sound. But it does not, instead it gives way to the off-kilter sound of "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" with its xylophone backing and drum break down in the middle which gives way to the avant-garde again - it is a great piece of work, but hardly a song as it is more of an adventure into the strange.
So we are over half way through the adventure into weasel land and where is Uncle Frank going to take us? Well, he will introduce "Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula" which is a strange little 2 minute piece that both confuses and delights. Then we have the part of the album which can be called the song section - "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama" & "Oh No".
The former is a tale of how a family don't want their daughter dating a hippy so his guitar gets angry and wants to kill them (as you do); whilst the later is Frank Zappa's response to the 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' by The Beatles and saying that you cannot control the meaning of love. Both of these songs are moments of genius that you associate with Zappa and the Mothers, and both are up there with the best of his/their work. After this is "The Orange County Lumber Truck" which is another classic Zappa instrumental that enthrals the listener with its dynamics and wonderful playing; yet after what has gone on before you would be expecting to have a avant-garde break down. But you do not get it, you get the song speeding up like a normal rock song near the end, but that is all, very un-Zappa but maybe that is why they did it to confuse their audience - either way it sounds sublime and then the real reason for it is revealed by the title track, which is also the title track. This is just a wall of noise for one minute and thirty seconds and then the last few seconds are of a crowd cheering.
So overall where does it rest in the land of Zappa? Well, for the cover alone it is one of the more focal points of his career; but the music would also need to be good to back this up, as just having a good cover is not going to make you want to keep the album. So it is lucky that there is classic album underneath the cover; but it is not the easiest going if I am honest. For me it is a walk in the park, but some of the more outlandish moments will have the casual listener reaching for the stop button. But Zappa never wanted to make just easy records; there are plenty of those in his back catalogue, he wanted to make the music he wanted and if people followed, then so be it. You have to admire that, and thankfully he has the music to back it up. For me it is one of the cornerstones of his whole career and so beautiful, but be careful out there; it might want to kill your momma....
10 out of ten - This is proof that there is a God
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Frank Zappa website here
You can listen to the album here on Spotify
Here is a slowed down live version of "Oh No".