Absolutely FreePosted: August 21, 2015
After not hearing it for several years, I have recently started relistening to Absolutely Free by The Mothers of Invention. I am now fairly confident it’s my favourite Zappa album albeit one that’s strangely overlooked in his vast oueuvre – vast.
My relationship with Zappa has been an odd one. When I was 16 I really got into Captain Beefheart -but unfortunately there were only oooh 15 Beefheart albums to buy. No way near enough! I found out about Beefheart’s Zappa connection (went to the same school, used to be in a band together etc etc) and I dived right in. My local record shop, the sadly defunct Pendulum Records, used to sell 3 albums for £10 and so, week after week, fuelled by my job setting up the market and my rampant OCD, I set out buying as many Zappa albums as I could.
and then… I kind of stopped. As the years passed I stopped really listening to Zappa and kind of wondered if I actually liked his music (despite havung 50 or so of his albums). Turns out I do – I just needed a break.
Absolutely Free was one of the last Zappa albums I bought, which is why maybe I tend to think of it as an overlooked one – the other possibilities for its overlook-edness may well be the fact it’s sandwiched between Freak Out! – which gets the “wow it’s the groundbreaking first album and McCartney was influenced by it to do Pepper!” (double) thumbs up – and We’re Only It For The Money – which is often cited as Zappa’s best album, as it’s a scathing social commentary and having a cool Pepper mocking cover.
I love Absolutely Free for several reasons. One is the actual sound of the album – a really weird mix of cheesy piss take rock n roll (kind of like The Residents’ Third Reich and Roll) and oboe-and-clarinet classical influences. The playing itself, is in part, kind of crappy. I’m guessing Zappa himself hated it but it really adds to the charm for me, especially compared with the ultra slick work he did from the 70s onwards. The Mothers sound like they’re an actual band and they’re actually enjoying playing – mostly getting the notes right of some really complicated music. It reminds me of Zappa saying The Shaggs were better than the Beatles.
In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa, moans of the album, “MGM proclaimed that we couldn’t spend more than eleven thousand dollars on it. The recording schedules were ridiculous, making it impossible to perfect anything on the album.” Personally I think the most definite non perfection is what makes it. Crappy singing and the drums – well on the available-on-the-cd reissue bside “Why Don’t You Do Me Right” the drums are audibly out of time. Timeless.
The other thing I love about the album are the lyrics, especially on side one. The mixture of Stravinsky quotes in the music and the garbled rock cliches hit exactly the right note for me. “Duke of Prunes” begs not to be studied intently for it’s words but I do wonder whether Zappa chose to sing about prunes and cheese and beans because he thought they were funny as concepts or because he liked the way the words sounded. I’m assuming a little from column a and a little from column b. M
So in conclusion, I like Absolutely Free. Also, “America Drinks and Goes Home” is a great song title.
Juanso, August 15.