FRANK ZAPPA — Uncle Meat (The Mothers Of Invention) (review)

FRANK ZAPPA — Uncle Meat (The Mothers Of Invention) album cover Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Note: as I suspect other reviewers will want to do, I'm reviewing the album as it was originally released - without the 40 minutes of "penalty tracks" tagged on to the front of disc 2 as excerpts from the never-finished Uncle Meat movie and Tengo Na Minchia Tanta, a daft Zappa composition from the 1980s which has nothing to do with this album.

Uncle Meat represents the start of the final phase of the original Mothers of Invention - as also documented on Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh. Having got their commercial urges out of their system on Cruising With Ruben and the Jets, the group threw themselves into performing Zappa's challenging and increasingly jazz- and classical- influenced works, forming the missing link between the early Mothers albums and Zappa's later solo career. (Indeed, one song on here, Mr Green Genes, would lose its quasi-operatic vocal and get a big shot of fusion before being rolled out on Hot Rats as Son of Mr Green Genes).

That isn't to say the occasional parody of more commercial pop idioms is absent - The Air and Cruising for Burgers are some of the best Mothers songs in that style, as is the first part of Dog Breath In the Year of the Plague before it takes a left turn into driving proto-fusion and jazz-classical third stream experimentation - but the group no longer makes any pretense of hoping to attain commercial appeal - as the occasional spoken word interjection from "Suzy Creamcheese", returning from Freak Out!, attests to. To be fair, they didn't necessarily mean to - whilst not seeing much popular success in the States, they did at least have a loyal following in the UK at the time, as the extracts from a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Louie Louie attest.

Aside from Zappa, the band member most worthy of note here is Ian Underwood, whose woodwind and sax playing is key to the band's new sound (having been a presence since We're Only In It For the Money), and gets to showcase his playing on Ian Underwood Whips It Out. Also notable is the fact that this is the first Zappa album to feature the marimba and vibes stylings of Ruth Komanoff (who would become Ruth Underwood on marrying Ian the following year), which would be a key part of Zappa's sound for much of the 1970s. The band as a whole shines on the album's closer, the sidelong epic King Kong, which fusion fans in particular should pay particular attention to since in style it seems to be a seminal work of that particular type - the likes of Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra would only catch up to this sort of pounding, furious, volcanic playing in the 1970s, whereas this was recorded in 1968!

To my mind, there's not a bad track on the album ("penalty tracks" excluded), though admittedly there's a wide range of musical styles on offer and if you don't like them all you might find some parts of the album drag. But if you can stomach avant-classical, jazz, bubblegum doo-wop and proto-fusion all coming together in Zappa's creative blender, you can't go wrong.
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