Friday, April 22, 2016

Frank Zappa - 1969 [1987] "Uncle Meat"

Uncle Meat is the fifth studio album by The Mothers of Invention, released as a double album in 1969. Uncle Meat was originally developed as a part of No Commercial Potential, a project which spawned three other albums sharing a conceptual connection: We're Only in It for the Money, Lumpy Gravy and Cruising with Ruben & the Jets. This is Official Release #6.
The album also served as a soundtrack album to a proposed science fiction film which would not be completed, though a direct-to-video film containing test footage from the project was released by Zappa in 1987. The music is diverse in style, drawing from orchestral, jazz, blues and rock music. Uncle Meat was a commercial success upon release, and has been highly acclaimed for its innovative recording and editing techniques, including experiments in tape speed and overdubbing, and diverse sound.

Just three years into their recording career, the Mothers of Invention released their second double album, Uncle Meat, which began life as the largely instrumental soundtrack to an unfinished film. It's essentially a transitional work, but it's a fascinating one, showcasing Frank Zappa's ever-increasing compositional dexterity and the Mothers' emerging instrumental prowess. It was potentially easy to overlook Zappa's melodic gifts on albums past, but on Uncle Meat, he thrusts them firmly into the spotlight; what few lyrics there are, Zappa says in the liner notes, are in-jokes relevant only to the band. Thus, Uncle Meat became the point at which Zappa began to establish himself as a composer and he would return to many of these pieces repeatedly over the course of his career. Taken as a whole, Uncle Meat comes off as a hodgepodge, with centerpieces scattered between variations on previous pieces, short concert excerpts, less-realized experiments, doo wop tunes, and comedy bits; the programming often feels as random as the abrupt transitions and tape experiments held over from Zappa's last few projects. But despite the absence of a conceptual framework, the unfocused sprawl of Uncle Meat is actually a big part of its appeal. It's exciting to hear one of the most creatively fertile minds in rock pushing restlessly into new territory, even if he isn't always quite sure where he's going. However, several tracks hint at the jazz-rock fusion soon to come, especially the extended album closer "King Kong"; it's his first unequivocal success in that area, with its odd time signature helping turn it into a rhythmically kinetic blowing vehicle. Though some might miss the gleeful satire of Zappa's previous work with the Mothers, Uncle Meat's continued abundance of musical ideas places it among his most intriguing works.

To get it out of the way, I’ll simply say, Uncle Meat is really out there. Even for Zappa standards, it’s extremely weird. And it’s absurdly magnificent.
Uncle Meat, part of the “No Commercial Potential” series Zappa had going on at the time, Uncle Meat was the proposed soundtrack to a science-fiction film that Zappa had in the works, but never got completed (behind-the-scenes footage would be released in 1987 however). It is perhaps Zappa’s most diverse album, even more than We’re Only In It For The Money. Spanning over seventy-five minutes at its original release on April 21, 1969, it gathered its sound from several genres, from straightforward rock music, to orchestral music, and jazz, et cetera, et cetera.

Drawing the elements from the mostly spoken-word remake of Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat went one step further, and not only increased the use of bizarre spoken-word segments, but the use of percussion and orchestral movements. This all showcased Zappa’s ever-growing strengths as a composer and arranger. For example, Nine Types of Industrial Pollution and Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme, are based on percussional instrumentation and are formless in melody. The classic rock ‘n’ Roll influences of the 1950s are effortlessly captured in Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague, which from the start seems as a typical rock track, then turns into an avant-garde group effort dominated by overdubs and the new recording technology of the time. Throughout the album, the band’s unofficial spokeswoman, Suzy Creamcheese would pipe in and tell short stories of The Mothers, and what they were about, serving as quick introductions to the succeeding tracks. Another unique part of the album was the live segments from the band’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall. To say the least, these live portions of the album are the most droll and forgettable recordings The Mothers had the distinction of releasing, and serve no purpose whatsoever to the album.

But the shining moment of Uncle Meat most certainly has to be the finale: King Kong. A side long free jazz behemoth, and clocking in at seventeen minutes, King Kong was the crowning achievement of the original Mothers incarnation without a doubt. Mainly in 3/8 time signature, the suite is one long repetition of the track’s melody in different variations, from a live rendition focusing on saxist Ian Underwood, to a variation of the melody put through various electronic effects, as well as a final variation featuring sped-up gongs, overblown saxophones, and several other instruments.

Although free of the satire associated with many of Zappa and The Mother’s albums and other projects, the abundance of ideas found on Uncle Meat place it among The Mothers’ greatest works. It most certainly is the most difficult of the classic-era albums to get into due to its avant-garde sound, and its inaccessibility compared to other Zappa/Mothers albums. That definitely doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time, because to put it straight: It is worth investing not only seventy-five minutes of your time, but a whole day dedicated to it.

One of the problems with Frank Zappa's immense catalog (nearly 60 releases) is that it can take an interested listenter a long time to find the cream of the crop. I hiope to solve that for you by telling you to BUY THIS CD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The "Uncle Meat" double CD contains what could be some of the best and most interesting music of our century.

The CD has more than Rock and Roll. In fact, some of the most wonderful things on the discs are the marimba-laden "classical" tracks. Not that the disc doesn't contain fanstatic rock. Zappa knew how to make an _album_, though; the individual songs are difficult to isolate because you will soon think of "Uncle Meat" as a single compositional entity.

There is one hitch to this concept-album-like flow. The CD version (as opposed to the cassette or LP) contains nearly a half an hour of audio footage from the filming of the never-really-completed Uncle Meat movie. Instead of putting the "bonus" stuff at the end of the disc, it has been inserted between songs on the second disc. Your listening enjoyment of the music will come to a grinding halt as you reach for the remote. Don't get me wrong! Listen to the audio footage. There's some great stuff. Listen to it often, if you like. But just be prepared when you're lost in the music to bounce out of your reverie. The position of the bonus audio footage is the only thing that holds me back from heartily and readily giving the CD a perfect 10 rating. END.

Tracks Listing

Disc 1 Time: 57:21
1. Main Title Theme (1:56)
2. The Voice of Cheese (0:26)
3. Nine Types of Industrial Pollution (6:00)
4. Zolar Czakl (0:54)
5. Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague (3:59)
6. The Legend of the Golden Arches (3:28)
7. Louie Louie (At the Royal Albert Hall) (2:19)
8. The Dog Breath Variations (1:48)
9. Sleeping in a Jar (0:50)
10. Our Bizarre Relationship (1:05)
11. The Uncle Meat Variations (4:46)
12. Electric Aunt Jemima (1:46)
13. Prelude to King Kong (3:38)
14. God Bless America (1:10)
15. A Pound for a Brown on the Bus (1:29)
16. Ian Underwood Whips It Out (5:05)
17. Mr. Green Genes (3:14)
18. We Can Shoot You (2:03)
19. If We'd All Been Living in California... (1:14)
20. The Air (2:57)
21. Project X (4:48)
22. Cruisin' for Burgers (2:18)

Disc 2 Time: 63:05
1. Uncle Meat Film Excerpt, Pt. 1 (37:34)
2. Tengo Na Minchia Tanta (3:46)
3. Uncle Meat Film Excerpt, Pt. 2 (3:50)
4. King Kong Itself [Played by the Mothers] (0:49)
5. King Kong II [Interpreted by Tom Dewild] (1:21)
6. King Kong III [Motorhead Explains It] (1:44)
7. King Kong IV [Gardner Varieties] (6:17)
8. King Kong V (0:34)
9. King Kong VI [Live at Miami Pop Festival] (7:24)

Total Time: 120:26

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / guitar, percussion, keyboards, vocals
- Don Preston / bass, keyboards, electric piano
- Jimmy Carl Black / comedy, percussion, drums, voices
- Ray Collins / guitar, vocals
- Aynsley Dunbar / guitar
- Roy Estrada / basses, vocals
- Bunk Gardner / clarinet, flute, bass clarinet, piccolo, saxes, wind
- Ruth Komanofff / percussion, marimba
- Billy Mundi / drums, vocals
- Jim Sherwood / guitar, vocals, wind
- Art Tripp / percussion, chimes, drums, marimba, xylophone, bells, tympani, vibraphone, wood block
- Ian Underwood / organ, clarinet, flute, guitar, piano, celeste, harpsichord, keyboards, saxes, wind, electric organ
- Ruth Underwood / percussion, keyboards
- Nelly Walker / vocals
- Euclid James Sherwood / tenor sax, tambourine, voices 

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