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Frank Zappa

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We're Only In It for the Money

Willie's comments: The third LP from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention is a trippy, frequently hilarious concept album which satirizes both the hippie culture of the ‘60s and the anti-hippie establishment with equal amounts of venom. The peaceniks get it good with “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” and “Flower Punk” (I particularly like Zappa’s apparently improvised rant at the end of the former), while conservative, complacent members of the upper class are lambasted in “Bow Tie Daddy” and the heartbreaking “Mom & Dad.” The music manages to both embrace the psychedelic pop of bands like the Seekers and the Status Quo and mock it, as Zappa saturates his catchy singalong melodies with odd sound effects, and interrupts them with non-sequitur snatches of dialogue. It’s a bit much to absorb in one sitting, but there’s no denying the genius of Zappa’s vision. Grade: A-

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Hot Rats

Willie's comments: Conceived as “a movie for your ears” by Zappa, this mostly-instrumental collection does sound like an exceptionally jazzy score to a film. And that’s to the good- these songs sound like the best Phish jam ever recorded (and yes, I know Zappa came first and was actually a huge influence on Phish, but as there was really no precedent for Zappa's excursions, I'm comparing them to those of a band that is more likely accessible to the youth of today, alright?). Captain Beefheart provides vocals to “Willie the Pimp,” which is as gorgeously scuzzy as the title suggests, while “Peaches en Regalia” is a breathtaking musical soundscape. Hot Rats has a pretty limited audience- instrumental music fans might find it too experimental for their tastes, while people who are more used to Zappa’s pop nuggets like “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” might find it a little too challenging, but it’s a brilliant, important work that’s still listenable. Grade: A+

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Strictly Commercial

Willie's comments: With sixtysomething albums’ worth of material to choose from, selecting tracks for this “greatest hits” compilation must have been a hellish undertaking, and every Zappa fan will probably dispute at least a few of the inclusions and exclusions (I would’ve liked the uplifting “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” to have appeared here instead of the ugly “Trouble Every Day”), but this is Zappa at his most accessible. Bear in mind, though, if you’re looking for an easy immersion into the man’s oeuvre, that Zappa at his most accessible is still pretty strange. The music runs the gamut from the novelty new wave of “Valley Girl” to the anthemic classic rock of “Muffin Man” to the down-and-dirty funk of “Dirty Love.” It’s disjunctive, to be sure, but always interesting, and often fun. Grade: A-

READER COMMENTS:

Joe Friesen writes: Re: We're Only In It For the Money. There are few things I hate worse than when a review of this album goes on and on and on and ON about the lyrics for this album without so much as mentioning the brilliance of the music... you know, the thing Zappa probably focused 99% of his energy on when making this thing. Thanks for talking about the merits of both, it's refreshing. The next pseudo-intellectual prick who tries to tell me about the "death sentence" Zappa pronounced on the hippie movement with this album is gonna get a stiff smack in the back of the head from me, that's fo'sho.

How do I feel about the album, you ask? It's my second-favorite Zappa release, right behind the perverted mayhem of "Joe's Garage". I love the hell out of artists who know they're the shit, so they decide to cram a zillion different short song fragments onto an album. They know pretty much anything they put out there is gonna kick ass, so why not cram a whole lotta different catchy melodies onto an album. Give the listener many many different hooks to get stuck in their head (this would naturally explain my love for Robert Pollard). And FZ has such a profound understanding for songcraft and what makes different styles of songs work, and Frank decides he's just gonna let it all hang out, so what we get is Frank's "White Album"/"Chocolate & Cheese" (and the good lord knows how much I love those things).

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Zero 7

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Simple Things

Willie's comments: Zero 7 is not a band, per se. It's two electronica producers, Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker. They've previously done some remixes for bands like Lambchop (their irksome rendition of "Up With People" is on Lambchop's Tools in the Dryer) and Radiohead, but for Simple Things, their first album, they recruited a rotating group of musicians to lay down the excellent tripfunk/soulpop songs they write together. (There are also a few songs that the duo seems to have nothing to do with aside from production, like "I Have Seen" and "End Theme," but the songs are so moving and gorgeous that you won't mind the slight discographical headache.) The tunes on Simple Things can easily draw comparisons to opposite-end-of-the-alphabet electronic acts like Air and Alpha, with their gift for rhythms that are simultaneously laid-back and exciting, prominent basslines that are sturdy and deliberate, and a series of guest vocalists (most impressively Sia Furler and Sophie Barker, whose R&B-based duet on "Destiny" recalls both Fiona Apple and Janet Jackson, but bests them both) who supply the breathy emotion on some tracks. Neither of those bands, however, aims for the sense of majesty that Zero 7 evokes, both in their inventive production- the welcoming bongos in "Polaris" or the shivery flute in "Red Dust," for example- and in the powerful uplift of their music. (If the descending violin part in the jazz-accented "Give It Away" doesn't stir something inside you, then I'm afraid you and I have no future together.) Trust me when I say it's terrific- only an album I was truly passionate about could result in a review as convoluted and parenthesis-ridden as the one you've just read. It's a masterpiece. Grade: A+

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When It Falls

Willie's comments: It's pretty much more of the same on Zero 7's sophomore effort, with slightly diminished success. The soulful Moon Safari-isms are no longer quite so novel, and the band is kind of stingy with their exuberant instrumental tracks (here, it's just the cinematic title track and the sweeping "Look Up," which presents what might happen if Stereolab let themselves get really funky), instead filling the disc with a few too many hazy, slow R&B melodies. Things start agreeably enough, with a handful of songs that are every bit as successful in their merging of space-jazz and trip-hop as Simple Things was, but "In Time" is disagreeably chipper in the midst of such a mellow album, and Mozez's vocals on "Over Our Heads" and "Morning Song" quickly become tedious (Zero 7 should stick to letting sultry female singers Barker, Furler, and Tina Dico alternate vocal duties). That said, it's hard to do much grousing when you've got so much fluid, sexy instrumental interplay, with invigorating string and horn sections adding drama to the subtle basslines and engaging keyboard hotdoggery. Simple Things is essential, but if you're understandably insatiable in your Zero 7 cravings, this'll do. Grade: B

THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: LAMBCHOP; RADIOHEAD

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