Monthly Archives: January 2012

Freak Out!-FRANK ZAPPA-1966

Even if you do not like great tongue-in-cheek humour /parodies/social commentary in your music, you still gotta give this a spin. Skip Weird Al Yankovic, get this! Essential Zappa. On the other hand if you do, you are already a fan or you are missing out on a great album. I’ll skip all the commentary on the lyrics etc, because (a) people have already written about it to death (b) its better if you discover everything on your own without getting any spoilers. However (a) what a great anthem/opener is “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”? Talk about being spot-on, this song transcends jokes and commentary on 50’s music culture, and take a life of its own. (b) how awesome are the melodies on I Ain’t Got No Heart/Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder/How Could I Be Such a Fool/Any Way The Wind Blows? Even though the sarcasm is hot and spiteful, and the vocals and backing vocals are flat, without any emotion other than cyncism and mockery, these are just awesomely catchy songs man! (c) what an awesome blues rocker we have here in the form of “Trouble Every Day”?

The last track drags but what the hell, its a freaking double album. Essential listening, especially the first half, which is just non stop laugh out loud great music! Along with Hot Rats, my favourite Zappa album. Cannot compare the two since they contain two different sides of Zappa.

-Baba T

Cruising with Ruben and the Jets-FRANK ZAPPA-1968

This the album where Zappa buries 50’s doo wop once and for all. Now me, I’ve never heard much of doo wop, having been born much much later, but from what I can comprehend, 50’s doo wop was the epitome of the psuedo individualization of pop music : corporate mass produced fodder for the suburban loving, mindless post WW-II, its-all-good-lets-buy-everything-in sight generation of the reigning capitalist centre of the world.

Well Zappa throws all of that into a wooden coffin, takes a drill and drills the ever loving crap out of all that, stomps on the coffin and buries it in a dark cold cellar a quarter of a mile underground. He already had done the groundwork for the burial on the epic debut “Freak Out!” but here he just sticks into it. Just look at the liner notes, with the fictitious story of a fictional caricature band called “Ruben and the Jets”, look at Zappa’s clean shaven ass on the back. He went all out with this one. The best tracks on here are better heard on the debut, which I’ll be coming to later. As for the album,its a good ironic laugh, a nice parody of all the doo wop cliches, but if you’ve heard it once, you won’t be hearing it again. It is safe to say that you can pass this Zappa offering by, without missing out on anything. However do take out a minute and check out the liner notes and album cover. Its hilarious.

-Baba T

Hot Rats-FRANK ZAPPA-1969

Just to give all the “he-can-only-make-fun-of-good-emotional-music-this-guy-cannot-be-taken-seriously” critics a swift kick in the nuts, Zappa went all instrumental, cast aside all the doo wop and spoken word parodies, and made an awesome all music all the time album which is my favourite Zappa album from the 60’s, as well as coming in the top 3 of my Zappa collection. Honestly even if this one only had Peaches En Regalia and the rest was corny Zappa jokes, I would still give this album a thumbs up because (a) Zappa jokes are Zappa jokes, some of them hit home some of the time, (b) Peaches En Regalia is the best damn Zappa song ever. It is just an awesome composition, not an improvisation, mark ye, just a great piece of composition, which fuses so many motifs in its short running time (more than the whole of Yes’s 80’s career and Tales of Topographic Oceans plus the whole of Phil Collins and late Genesis as also most of the later Tull albums and all music made in the last decade or so) that it is just a mind blowing piece of music. It ably demonstrates the strengths of careful composition (more in the vein of classical music and good death metal music) which avoids the predictability of normal rock verse chorus structure over random improvisation (let me come to that). Yes sirree. Hear that and tell me with a straight face that you cannot listen to Zappa because he doesn’t take music seriously. He does take it seriously, just not in the way all those neo prog/corny black metal/Yngwie Malmsteen people take it.

It is not about repetition mind you, which is a part of all of western music (and all pop music all over the world. Cannot comment on all the folk/classical styles of the rest of the world, though I am pretty sure that such a vital element is common to all human music) but about avoiding the mindless mainstream pop wherein if you cut one part of a song and compare it with a part which comes later on, you would not be able to tell which comes first and which comes last.

The rest of the album, here is the thing; it is directly a contrast with the opener, in that, it is mostly all what they call, improvised jazz fusion, (making my foregoing adjective utterly superfluous). However, it is Zappa-tized, so you never get the feeling of the music be distracting and over bearing, rather the improvs are very strong, carrying out the motifs and story telling in a compelling manner, especially in Willie The Pimp. Only by the last track do I feel the “now thats enough I need something else” feeling. Excellent.

It is hard to categorize Zappa as anything, but in my mind he will always be what I deem to be progressive music, not in the traditional Marillion-Tull-Spock’s Beard-esque sense, but more in the King Crimson-mid period Yes sense-breaking barriers, truly experimenting with music. Listen to this stuff and have patience.

-Baba T

Let Them Talk – HUGH LAURIE – 2011

The misanthropic Dr. House seems fit for music a lot less empathetic than this….something sardonic like Cake would suit him better. As it turns out, Hugh Laurie is much softer and more amenable to such trifles as empathy and disenfranchisement and loves the blues. I didn’t think so. To me, this was simply a curious aside in a career that’s in textbook good health.

The change came about mid-air. While flying home from a vacation, I managed to catch a documentary (Down By The River – watch it) that Laurie filmed while recording this album. Suddenly, that which seemed to me a product of mild-conceit suddenly seemed much, much deeper. Laurie’s love for the blues is far more than skin deep, and hence this tasteful selection of covers.

Because he’s a recording n00b, Laurie’s enlisted some heavy weaponry to articulate his blues dream. Irma Thomas mans (womans?) the duet singer desk while at the production table is Joe Henry. It’s clear, then, that Laurie is implying that the album be judged unsparingly on it’s own merits. And so it shall be.

I’ll start with his piano playing. From the barroom strut of of “St. James’s Infirmary” to the dying breaths of the title track, Laurie’s playing has several this-is-really-quite-good moments. “Swanee River” and “Tipitina”, for instance, are grin inducing. However, all is not cloudless, and the occasionally lunk-headed heavier than necessary phrasing causes minor heartburn. You’ll know when you hear it.

When singing, it sometimes seems that Laurie is trying too hard to do an American accent, but even the sometimes strange result sounds musical, with the stubbly Dr. House look (reinforced on the cover) dovetailing nicely with his soulful, lugubrious voice. The lovely clippy Oxbridge is nice in and of itself, but since the fiction here is of an American accent, it’s a bit jarring, like on “Six Cold Feet”. He also happens to be out of his depth in songs that rely on melisma and sustain. He’s no Howlin’ Wolf, and its usually the tunes themselves and the able backing band that ferry the songs beyond the ordinary. A little more croaking and hoarse whispering would sound excellent.

Laurie’s playing has several this-is-really-quite-good moments

The biggest compliment I can give this album is that it’s not an embarrassing teenage fantasy fulfilled for a middle-aged man. This is a proper album, with proper musicians. In fact, Laurie’s piano playing is arguably better than his singing. This authenticity comes to the fore in the ebullient, celebratory sounds of “Swanee River”. The piano doesn’t have an accent.

My favourite track would be the irresistibly upbeat “Tipitina”, which as the documentary says, has special resonance for Laurie. It’s a great choice too. The apparently nonsensical scatting provides the biggest emotional wave of the album, which then thrillingly recedes in the moments immediately afterwards. At this point I felt a bit of a prole when I realized that “Tipitina” reminded me of, uh, the Will and Grace theme tune. Further reinforcement of ignorance came shortly afterwards upon realizing that “They’re Red Hot” is a blues standard and not in fact a Red Hot Chili Peppers original.

Fundamentally, this is a good album. Laurie’s musical talent is obvious, and it’d be a real disappointment if he stopped at just this one release. It’d be even more of a disappointment if he doesn’t come out with some original material next. I’d like to see him put his compositions to the test. This sounds right.

 - El Bajista


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 478 other followers

%d bloggers like this: