Tanner Babcock

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Frank Zappa (The Mothers of Invention)

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Year Title Rating
1966 Freak Out! 7.5/10
1967 Absolutely Free 7.5/10
1968 Lumpy Gravy 8/10
1968 We're Only in It for the Money 8.5/10
1968 Cruising with Reuben and the Jets 6.5/10
1969 Uncle Meat 8/10
1969 Hot Rats 7.5/10
1970 Weasels Ripped My Flesh 8/10
1970 Burnt Weeny Sandwich 7/10
1970 >>Chunga's Revenge .../...
1971 >>200 Motels .../...
1971 >>Filmore East - June 1971 .../...
1972 The Grand Wazoo 7/10
1972 Just Another Band from L.A. 7/10
1973 Over-Nite Sensation 7.5/10
1974 Apostrophe (') 6.5/10
1974 >>Roxy & Elsewhere .../...
1975 One Size Fits All 7.5/10
1975 Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart - Bongo Fury .../...
1976 >>Zoot Allures .../...
1977 >>Zappa in New York .../...
1978 >>Studio Tan .../...
1979 >>Sleep Dirt .../...
1979 >>Sheik Yerbuti .../...
1979 >>Joe's Garage .../...
1981 >>Tinsel Town Rebellion .../...
1981 >>You Are What You Is .../...
1981 >>Shut Up N' Play Yer Guitar .../...
1982 >>Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch .../...
1983 >>The Man from Utopia .../...
1983 Frank Zappa & London Symphony Orchestra - Zappa Vol. 1 .../...
1983 >>Baby Snakes .../...
1984 The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort & Frank Zappa - Francesco Zappa .../...
1984 Boulez Conducts Zappa - The Perfect Stranger .../...
1984 >>Thing-Fish .../...
1985 >>Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention .../...
1986 Jazz from Hell 7.5/10
1987 Frank Zappa & London Symphony Orchestra - Zappa Vol. 2 .../...
1988 >>You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 1 .../...
1988 >>You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 2 .../...
1989 >>You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 3 .../...
1989 Broadway the Hard Way 5.5/10
1991 >>The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life .../...
1991 >>Make a Jazz Noise Here .../...
1991 >>You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 4 .../...
1992 >>Playground Psychotics .../...
1993 >>Ahead of Their Time .../...
1993 >>The Yellow Shark .../...
1994 >>Civilization Phaze III .../...

Review last updated: March 28, 2018

Now Frank Zappa was probably the most unique, the most uncharacteristically intellectual, and the most stylistically adept and adaptable rock composer of all time. To describe Zappa's work simply as "satire" is a profoundly lacking understatement, it's a description that is unspeakably obvious. But this kind of satire, this scathing and blisteringly accurate social commentary: it's probably the most developed, symbolic, amusing, undeniably relevant, and unabashedly critical work to exist, in any medium. Frank Zappa is smarter than every rock musician who's ever lived put together. The fact that his genius and staggering intellect is best communicated in the medium of rock music is totally amazing. This man is a creative powerhouse, a musical workaholic. He has completely mastered, challenged, and re-invented every genre he's adapted and applied himself to: rock, jazz, classical, pop, even the then-infant movement of electronic music. There are numerous, fully-developed and genuinely challenging albums in each of these areas.

Not only was Zappa a mastermind of a composer, he was also a music producer, who funded and mastered a vast array of talented artists' recordings. The most notable of which is his lifelong friend and rival Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. Some other lesser-known gems include Wild Man Fischer's An Evening with Wild Man Fischer and Alice Cooper's first album Pretties for You.

Freak Out!

Freak Out! is the spark of creative talent and critical thought that not only led Frank Zappa and the Mothers on a path of brilliance, but unexpectedly launched a massive, commercially successful recording career. These songs are simple, they are sung in mocking and cynical tones, the social critique can be easily unveiled by even a simple-minded listener; but they are still astute and effective. See, Freak Out! was anomaly at the time, the songs that got the Mothers signed were things like "Trouble Every Day" and "Hungry Freaks, Daddy", but when they recorded "Help, I'm a Rock" and "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet", Verve Records kind of shit its pants. But The Mothers continued on with their recording contract.

We're Only in It for the Money

I believe We're Only in It for the Money to be Frank Zappa and the Mothers' masterpiece. This is something that is genre-defining, movement shaking, and cerebral conscious perspective-distorting. This is an album that was relevant immediately before it was released, and immediately after, and its social commentary is so clear, focused, cynical, and effective, that it continues to be relevant today. We're Only in It for the Money will probably still be relevant in 2040, 2050. This is a total and systematic breakdown of the flaws and tensions of American society, not only on a societal, political level, but on an individual, interpersonal level. It is also a musical delicacy and a composition labyrinth. The most obvious of the many interpretations is the critique of the hippie movements, but this is among the surface level of scathing destructive attacks. The most appropriate and symbolic target for this satire is The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's, an album so hollow, superficial, aesthetically concerned, and transparent, it beautifully and adequately represents the entirety of modern-day (then and now) human ignorance and apathy.

Think about the songs "Mom & Dad", "Absolutely Free", "Flower Punk". If you have difficulty picturing a situation or climate in 2018 society that these observations apply to, you might be hopelessly intellectually stunted (or you just don't care for Frank Zappa). This process of young adults "fizzling out", and turning into "stoney phonies", "trippy gypsies", and generally hollow and transparent, is what was so infecting and infatuating about the hippie movements and psychedelic music. This fizzling out is still present, almost palpable, in real life, especially in these shallow artistic circles. I can think of many people I've met in real life (some actually like this album, and the irony is lost on them) whose behaviors and thought processes would be perfectly summarized by things like "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" and "Let's Make the Water Turn Black". Keep in mind, the Vietnam War had just happened when this album was released.

Now what is there to look at on this album, aesthetically? I've been over the literary and intellectual ideas here, but what about the musical ones? This album marks a turning point, not only in the Zappa body of work, but in rock music, and post-modern art as a whole. It seems to be timeless, something that has traveled from the future, but also has existed for hundreds of years. The melodies here, seem to be (almost intentionally) staccato, stark, overly technical, and calculated - a perfect contrast to the reverbs, the tape loops, and the indignant appropriating Eastern music aeshetics, found in countless '60s psychedelic albums. This is not an album you can drone out or space out to, in fact your listening experience will be very aware and integrated. There are no big sweeping, trippy guitar effects that dazzle, and colorize, and conveniently hide the lack of substance or inspiration under the surface. See Sgt. Pepper's, Pet Sounds, Flaming Lips, Jimi Hendrix, Tame Impala, Radiohead. We're Only in It for the Money, even if it were a simple concept album about dog food, would still achieve ten times more than any of these faux-psych "milestone" albums, because of the incredible synesthetic and imaginative artistry involved. Many of these small numbers, included in this massive suite, become engulfed in electronic static, reversed instrumentals, distorted caricature vocals, and decimated and destroyed guitars.

Uncle Meat

Uncle Meat is almost dirty, degenerate even. It is the perfect and equally accessible middle ground between cerebral literary idea-mongering, and disgusting, depraved, perverted sex fantasies. This album's content is forever deconstructed, reconstructed, disassembled, reshaped, and reformed, with technical bells, xylophones, saxophones, and pianos. You can listen to a lush orchestra run through the dissociated frolics of "Dog Breath" or "Electric Aunt Jemima", with perfect technical elegance, and then hear Suzie Creamcheese saying "fuck" and "shit" and taking about men's balls immediately after it.