Absolutely Free

Frank Zappa / Mothers Of Invention

Rykodisc Records, 1967

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/01/2005

It's really a shame that Frank Zappa isn't alive today, in the year 2005, to see how little some things have changed in America from when he and the Mothers Of Invention released their sophomore disc Absolutely Free.

If Freak Out! was a hodge-podge of serious and experimental music, then Absolutely Free was merely taking their previous creation and siphoning off the strongest material onto the album. The end result was a disc that even more accurately shows off the musical talents of the Mothers while daring to give the finger to "proper, polite society" - or, at least, the mores of the day. Musically, it's a bit difficult to get through, but a trip that's well worth it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Zappa and the Mothers come out swinging right at the opening bell with "Plastic People," a tirade against both the commercialization of society and the puritan guard who thought the freaks and hippies were dangerous. It's a powerful piece of music, and one which (maybe not surprisingly) rings true today. The Mothers revisit the idea of bucking convention often on this album, challenging educational cliques ("Status Back Baby") and the establishment ("Brown Shoes Don't Make It"), making powerful statements that, if you're not careful, you'll absorb without even realizing it.

Yet Absolutely Free is also a place where Zappa and crew began to demonstrate that they were serious musicians as well. "Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin" is a controlled orgy of guitar and rhythm which balances on the threshold of exploding into unknown territories, but never loses focus of the general musical theme. Zappa's guitar work on this one is absolutely outstanding, even if he allows it to be pushed a little more into the background than I would have liked.

And, to no one's surprise, there is a bit of the absurd found here, too. "Big Leg Emma" could be seen as a "throw-away" track, but it is still an enjoyable work that could also be a slap in the face of conventional society, daring to put too much emphasis on outer beauty. But then, maybe I'm reading too much into the track, and Zappa and crew were going for the "big hit single" with this one.

The Mothers Of Invention definitely showed significant growth on Absolutely Free, both in terms of songwriting and musical performance - but their best work of this period still lay ahead of them. Even so, there is a reason why many Zappa fanatics say this disc is one of the first you should buy when getting into the eclectic Zappa, and they'll get no argument from me.

Rating: B+

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.