The way I see it, Barry, this should be a dynamite show.
Lumpy Gravy is Zappa’s first solo album, released between Absolutely Free & We’re Only In It For the Money, his second & third Mothers albums. The album was first issued in 1967, but legal issues surrounding Zappa’s contract with Verve Records led to the album being pulled and then reissued, in a very different version, in 1968. I listened to both versions and, while they share a similar aesthetic, I found them to be very different listening experiences. Lumpy Gravy is Zappa’s attempt to take his experiments with musique concrete on his previous albums and make an entire record of them. Both albums consist of lengthy orchestral instrumentals, catchy themes in a rock style, spoken word segments and dissonant sound/studio effects. This is not what I would call my favorite Zappa mode, as most readers of this review will know. The first release is split into nine different pieces and is a solid nine minutes shorter than the 1968 release, which only has two movements. Despite being longer and even more abstract, the 1968 version is, I think, the superior of the two. I like the themes Zappa creates here. There’s a high energy surf-rock theme that opens the record and I like the sections based around Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, which is on We’re Only In It For the Money, and another very familiar theme that, going purely off memory, later shows up as Oh No on Weasels Ripped My Flesh. If I’m right about that last bit, I will expect several high-fives from Zappa fans. But the spoken word segments, which sometimes go for two to three minutes, are as annoying as ever and the random sound effects and dissonant sections went over with me about as well as you’d expect, which is not very. On the whole, neither of these are albums I could see myself listening to in the future and, while there are nice moments and the 1968 version is incredibly well-edited, I feel like this one’s basically a waste of time. Since it’s barely over thirty minutes, it gets a significant pass on being a waste of time, in comparison to, oh, let’s say Uncle Meat, which is just as big of a waste of time, but is also a solid two hours. It’s maybe an interesting album if you want to see Zappa continue to develop his studio trickery, but I don’t. Then again, maybe putting all of the big conceptual stuff on this one is what enabled him to make We’re Only In It into a much tighter song-oriented album. Either way, it’s not an album worth even its brief running time. 1 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Zappa’s palette expands in myriad directions, but he still lacks a convincing frame to hang all his experimentation on; well-produced, ultimately empty. 1 ½ stars.