Official Release #6 'Uncle Meat' (Released 03/1969)Background Information:
A very, very advanced record. Zappa already set the bar high in terms of composition, diverseness and recording technique, but he surpasses everything he had already done with this album.
Zappa was already making films before his first record came out, Studio Z, the studio he had as a 24 year old, was his filmset. 200 Motels was supposed to be a science fiction movie incorporating The Mothers’ sexual escapades while touring. The movie turned out to be way too expensive to actually finish. The CD booklet states ‘This film is stashed away in my basement, while we scheme on how to raise 300,000 dollars to finish it’
New in the group was Ruth Komanoff (later Ruth Underwood) playing marimba, vibes and percussion. She would wind up to really define the sound of Zappa’s music.
Although bits of the movie were released in the 80’s, the entire movie was never finished.
The combination of live tracks and studio tracks makes this record a very diverse, but also a very all-over-the-place album. As if pop, classical and modern classical music, together with spoken word wasn’t enough. This one is on the brink of being too much.
Also, this really feels like a compilation album, like Zappa would make later in his career. A bit of everything he does on one album. The album itself:
To be really clear about this one, the addition of 40 minutes of movie dialogue and ‘Tengo Na Minchia Tanta’ are among the weirdest additions to a CD reissue ever. Skip those. I get the fact that without them the album would’ve been 79 minutes, so a single CD, but too long to deal with, so adding stuff and making it a 2CD makes sense. But not this.
Anyway, on to the music.
There’s a couple of classic Zappa tunes on this album, both Uncle Meat/Uncle Meat Variations, and Dog Breath/Dog Breath variations have been played on numerous tours, and have been released countless times.
Both of those are great examples of Zappa’s songwriting. Strange melodies, far out rhythms, bizarre orchestrations and still you’re humming along with them, smiling every time you fail.
Other than that the aforementioned pieces (together with The Legend of the Golden Arches/A Pound for a Brown on the Bus, and the underrated Zolar Czakl) prove that Zappa was way ahead of his time in terms of overdubbing. Not only are there up to 40 tracks in a single song (1969, people!), some tracks are double speed, or half speed to give another layer to these songs.
The difficult pieces have to be balanced out. There’s quite a couple of funny, short, foot-tap songs: ‘The Air’ is a lovely doo-wop kind of song, Sleeping in a Jar and Electric Aunt Jemima are funny ditties, Cruisin’ for Burgers quite a bit more intelligent than those, but Mr. Green Genes takes the cake. A more dark, brooding track, like Trouble Every Day off of Freak Out!
And just when you thought this album couldn’t hold any more greatness: King Kong.
A jamtrack, a live favorite, ranging from a short interlude, up to a 30 minute solo extravaganza. A short theme, and then a bunch of solo’s over a 3/8, one chord loop.
Project X deserves an extra mention. An extreme overdubbing etude. Greatly orchestrated, impressively ingenious, wonderfully written. Really one of Zappa’s greats. It’s a pity that it’s that ingenious that it couldn’t be performed live, and never went on to become a Zappa classic.
Overall this is a great record. The Mothers show everything they’ve got on this one. Only downside: sometimes it’s a bit too much, and it loses coherence. Essential Tracks:
Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme
Dog Breath, In The Year of the Plague
Mr. Green Genes
King Kong (Part 1 and 4 if you insist)
PS. Thanks for waiting guys, took a bit longer than I anticipated, but the discussion stayed alive!