FRANK ZAPPA — One Size Fits All (as Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention) (review)

FRANK ZAPPA — One Size Fits All (as Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention) album cover Album · 1975 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
The Limbo Variations (Frank, Incense and Mirth)

I had dismissed Zappa long ago as the 'smart arse's smart arse' until I accidentally stumbled upon a transcription of his statement before congress from 1985 in response to attempts by the PMRC to instigate a ratings system for all rock albums with regards the suitability of their lyrics for children. Much to my surprise, his comments revealed a mature, witty and responsible individual who had thought deeply about the perils of censorship for an industry he clearly held in disdain but still felt compelled to protect the rights of its artists. Zappa may have considered Sheena Easton and Prince's projected tantric offspring to be the beneficiaries of a ban on their parents pillow talk but he defended their right to free expression regardless:

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretation-al and enforce-mental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment Issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation. (Frank Zappa)

This is a political act in stark contrast to Frank's routine dissent which up to that point amounted to merely rubbing the noses of middle class US suburbia in their own clandestine droppings for our entertainment. There are so many different faces to the perennially moustachioed one that with over 60 albums to choose from, which Frank you meet beneath the covers is about as predictable as a 5 headed blind date. I find his contemporary classical music wilfully impenetrable, his scatological pastiches to be scribbled prurient adolescence, his musique concrete works don't and his feature length movies strike me as a slapstick and plagiarised take on 'Dada and Surrealism grab a burger from the Psychedelicatessen'. Which of course leaves One Size Fits All where we experience the fusioneering Frank who for me, is representative of Mr Z at his most endearing and loveable.Together with Hot Rats and Zoot Allures these are the only records I ever find myself playing. This is neither 'Rock from Heaven' or 'Jazz from Hell' and occupies a middle ground where the giggling schoolboy is expelled, the contrapuntal sadist is at the very least on a Roman holiday while the adventurous and irreverent composer/musician holds sway.

Inca Roads - One of the most enduring of his compositions that landscapes quite ingeniously a forbidding developmental structure beneath an accessible and attractive surface.The first hints of the subject matter are revealed by Duke's sci-fi synth atmospheres which paint suitably gaudy technicolor images of Martians invading the earth under the command of Emperor Sun Ra. Zappa speculates if aliens could have assisted the ancient Inca people of the Andes in their incredible feat of construction and although you know he doesn't buy this hokey for a second, he loves the Von Daniken storytelling opportunities it affords immensely:

Did a vehicle Did a vehicle, Did a vehicle Fly along the mountains And find a place to park itself Or did someone Build a place To leave a space For such a vehicle to land?

Like many of his 'large scale' melodies, this one does not resolve itself over a couple of bars as is the norm for rock. We are so used to bite sized packets of information in popular music that when anyone steps outside this convention, we're left exposed as tone deaf budgies with A.D.D. Similar to classical Indian ragas, Frank's tunes are certainly not of the 'theme and variation' type so endemic in our culture and, as if things needed to be any harder, he has a consuming fetish for breaking up such lengthy strands of melody with unrelated short 'shocks' of dissonant frisson or musique concrete sound effects and tangential dialogue. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds this irritating:

George Duke: This is such a beautiful melody, do you have to mess it up? Frank Zappa Yeah, but it needs some messing up

Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke and the composer all sing on this number but as to whose voice belongs to whom I'm really none the wiser. Zappa certainly exploits the 'other worldly' quality of Duke's analogue synths on the album and rarely have I heard similar devices receive such a pronounced role in his sound palette as they do here. Then something rather unusual occurs: Zappa plays a guitar solo using a tone that has body, texture and clear articulation. Normally I find his guitar timbre a brittle tinny froth that completely undermines his virtuosity on the instrument. Here he exploits the embouchure of a subtle wah-wah effect to create an exquisite lyrical solo that builds gradually in intensity all the while supported by some stellar bass playing which outlines and gently implies the harmonies without ever sacrificing the hypnotic pulse. This reciprocal dialogue is underpinned by the sparing groove of Chester Thompson who provides a salutary example of how a drummer can create space rather than just fill it.

The final section of the track veers headlong into an up-tempo electronic jazz hybrid featuring the marimba of Ruth Underwood (a brilliant and sympathetic player certainly, but Frank overcooks the chromatic percussion on practically everything I have ever heard that bears his name.) Still, say what you like about both Dylan and Zappa, at least they invented their own clichés (and Frank's are practically impossible to plagiarise without the hand and eye co-ordination of a contortionist ping pong world champion) Unfortunately when the vocals return in a different meter and faster tempo Zappa seems to get cold feet and the story lapses into one of his who dipped that hairy chick from Finland? in-jokes. Shame, as this is a number that otherwise represents everything commendable about the man and his music. (BTW I won't say who it was but his initials are C.H.E.S.T.E.R.)

Can't Afford No Shoes - Transparently silly but great fun all the same. Even on a joke at the expense of heavy rawk riff merchants you sense that Zappa is a little bit too fond of the thing he is lampooning for there ever to appear genuine vitriol in his delivery. He will also never be accused of ingratiating himself to a destitute and needy audience on this evidence either:

Hey anybody, Can you spare a dime? If you're really hurtin', a nickel would be fine

I suspect that the harmonica of 'Bloodshot Rollin Red' is a contractually expedient pseudonym for Captain Beefheart.

Sofa No 1 - has the stately swaying gait of gospel music but as if penned by either a defrocked or cross dressing priest who has pawned the collection plate to finance both his sling-back habits. There is something vaguely unwholesome cooking beneath those swishing vestments but Zappa defies my expectations by playing this one straight as a very beautiful piano dominated instrumental. My suspicions are not entirely unfounded as we shall discover later on.

Po Jama People - As a swipe at middle class mores this comes across as plain half hearted in the extreme. Frank sounds as bored as the people he ridicules and despite a grudgingly memorable chorus hook the whole undertaking is just gauche stereotyping. Since when did someone as avowedly anti establishment as Zappa allow himself to be hoisted by his own hippy petard? Their fans presumably found in the Mothers a kindred spirit, 'bright young thangs' who realised that people should not be judged solely on appearance (Man). So why this creaking excuse for the equation that dressing for bed makes you a square and unthinking conformist ready and willing to gun down the longhairs in their drug infested groovy love shacks? The fact that this song was seldom if ever played live on subsequent tours should tell you that even its author realised he had shot himself squarely in the foot.

Florentine Pogen - I can tell you that a pogen is a Swedish cookie but cannot find any reference to an importer in Italy. More fool me for taking Frank seriously I suppose. It hardly matters that this is verbal gobbledygook as the music is of such a high quality that singing the entire zip codes of Florence over same would have an identical effect. This is another example that like Inca Roads, has what could be described as a 'through composed' melody i.e. the habitually short thematic statements of popular and classical music which are subject to elaborate variations are dispensed with altogether. This is just one of the ways Zappa conspires to avoid what he surely felt was the burdensome gravitational pull of the diatonic key system. In other words, he treats chords merely as a means to 'colour' the melodic contour and thus frees himself from the requirement of harmonising a tune within conventional triad based devices to navigate to a predetermined tonic. (Guess that's what 'chromatic' originally meant?) If you play Em and Bm and whistle a certain tune over the top people might say, if they're old or drunk enough, hey that's Epitaph by Crimson ain't it? You can't do that with Frank's music which explains why you will seldom be regaled by Buskers from the FZ songbook.

Evelyn, A Modified Dog - Those of you who have heard Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and survived the ordeal may detect a whiff of sprechstimme (spoken voice) in this. Rest easy however because Zappa's deadpan tone poem inhabits a cheerier and more melodic realm where his delivery for the most part is redolent of 'talking on pitch' as exemplified by Rex Harrison in the musical My Fair Lady (No I'm not gay) He does however run out of steam towards the end and his lyrics starts to crib from 'Beefheart for Dummies, lesson 1' - dazzle them with shadows:

Evelyn, a dog, having undergone Further modification Pondered the significance of short-person behaviour In pedal-depressed panchromatic resonance And other highly ambient domains. Arf she said

San Berdino - After the punishing but rewarding obstacle courses represented by the last two tracks it's something of a relief to inhabit more traditional territory. This is as conventional as any blues based boogie under the baton of a lover of the avant garde could reasonably be expected to approach. The track radiates fun in spades and carries several resilient vocal hooks and instrumental disembowelments of blues clichés along the way. Listen to the joy displayed by Zappa's hand picked band, who by this stage could play anything he cared to throw at them and return it with interest, getting 'down and dirty' on a pumping shuffle fade that would put the Allman Brothers to shame. For reasons I'm at a loss to explain I cannot help laughing audibly whenever I hear this line:

She lives in Mojave in a Winnebago His name is Bobby, he looks like a potato

Andy - Possibly as close as Zappa ever came to music that in places is traditional bombastic prog. George Duke's declamatory synths certainly contribute to that feel and I can even imagine someone like Yes tackling this number to impressive effect. However, before we all get carried away this is Frank Zappa remember? and he will not let 6 minutes pass without stamping his contrary carbon footprint on any 'eco friendly' piece of music. Once again the chromatic percussion of Ruth Underwood is everywhere and she starts to resemble a precocious toddler who insists that these 'pussy kiddies instruments' need some serious attitudinal correction. If Andy Devine is the actor typecast as the cowboy sidekick with that distinctive raspy voice, what on earth did he do to merit the caustic bile in these lines that relegate Po Jama People to a spat in the rumpus room?:

Is there anything good inside of you If there is, I really wanna know

Sofa No 2 - Just when you thought it safe to go back on the psychiatrist's couch. The Sofa No 1 music is reprised but this time the latent sedition is released in the rather disappointing form of 'Goons' style German language vocals. Perhaps I just don't get Zappa's humour but why is 'I am a sofa' sung in a schoolboy Teutonic accent deemed hilarious in some quarters?

Given the sheer mass of material that Zappa produced and contributed to in his lifetime, it's very difficult to form an overview of his music so I'm not even going to try as it would undermine the breadth, depth and scope of his undoubted talent.

I'm not a Zappa fan by any stretch of the imagination but this is my favourite album of his by quite a considerable distance.For this reviewer One Size Fits All captures a rare sincerity, a heartfelt anger and a strain of his humour I can at least enjoy.
Share this review

Review Comments

Post a public comment below | Send private message to the reviewer
Please login to post a shout
No shouts posted yet. Be the first member to do so above!


Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
Buy this album from our partners
A Love Supreme Post Bop
Buy this album from our partners
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
Buy this album from our partners
My Favorite Things Hard Bop
Buy this album from our partners

New Jazz Artists

New Jazz Releases

In D World Fusion
Buy this album from MMA partners
Jahari Masamba Unit : Pardon My French Jazz Related Electronica/Hip-Hop
Buy this album from MMA partners
Universe RnB
Buy this album from MMA partners
Haunted Carbonek Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Jazz Online Videos

Papa John Creach - "Bumble Bee Blues"
js· 47 minutes ago
Great 3 Kikuchi=Peacock=Togashi - Begin the Beguine (Full Album)
snobb· 11 hours ago
The Way You Say I Think You Think
js· 20 hours ago
Dans mon pays
js· 20 hours ago
More videos

New JMA Jazz Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions


Latest Jazz News


More in the forums

Social Media

Follow us