Although you don’t want me no more
Oh, but it’s alright, it’s alright with me
Cause you know, you’re gonna want me some day
Oh, you will want me & I’ll run away.
Based on my history with Zappa’s music, it was predicted that I’d hate this album; thankfully, that’s not the case – I’m having more trouble with this album’s companion, Weasels Ripped My Flesh. But this one works surprisingly well in a kind of conceptual fashion. It starts and ends with covers of fifties songs, WPLJ & Valarie; in between those more traditional numbers, there’s a lot of time spent on instrumental experimentalism. Somehow, the contrast elevates both the traditional numbers and the experimental pieces; you’d think the two styles would clash, but somehow they add up to more than the sum of their parts. That said, I did find much of the instrumental stuff to be pretty bland and forgettable. Now, bland & unforgettable is far preferable to teeth-grindingly grating/rage-inducing, ie. a lot of Zappa’s experimental stuff up to this point, Uncle Meat particularly. Igor’s Boogie & Holiday in Berlin are too experimental for their own good, I’d say, but they’re not terrible, just not really engaging at all. When the instrumental stuff focuses on Ian Underwood’s great piano skills, it gets better. Aybe Sea is a lovely, lilting tune (**** that title though) and the solo piano intro to The Little House I Used to Live In is perhaps the best bit on the album. The Little House, somewhat surprisingly to some maybe, works really well for me actually. It’s probably a bit too long and the spoken word coda is pointless, but it walks right on that line of revealing some of Zappa’s off-beat sensibilities without plunging into them headlong. There’s a section about halfway through where things start to get wilder and wilder and more chaotic and I kind of figured, “Well, I guess the last half of this track is going to suck,” but then suddenly, the drums come in mixed a little louder than the other instruments and lay the beat back down and those drums just pull the rest of the instruments back into one of the piece’s themes. And I loved that. And I genuinely did love the two covers. The first opens the album in a surprising, witty & energetic way and the last one, Valarie, feels as emotionally sincere as anything I’ve heard from Zappa so far. There’s none, at least that I can hear, of the sardonic distance that, for better & worse, kind of colors a lot of Zappa’s music (almost all of his vocal music, actually). I quite enjoyed this. The instrumentals in the first half were quite lacking, but the vocal stuff was dead on and the instrumentals in the second half were really good as well. This isn’t a masterpiece, but in a career as varied as Zappa’s, I’ll take a non-masterpiece any day. 3 stars.
tl;dr – a couple of great covers and a couple of great instrumentals share space with a fair amount of forgettable trivia, but there’s not much beyond occasional blandness wrong here. 3 stars.