Waka/Jawaka might have Hot Rats on its cover, but The Grand Wazoo has Hot Rats in its blood. Small wonder then that this is, chronologically, my favorite album since Hot Rats and, again chronologically, his first out and out masterpiece since Hot Rats. We’re entering something of a strong section of his career maybe; his next album after this one is Over-Nite Sensation, another masterpiece. But back to Wazoo, it’s made up of four fairly lengthy instrumentals and one vocal track. The vocal track feels like an outtake from Uncle Meat; I should say a reworked and substantially polished outtake from Uncle Meat, but from Uncle Meat nonetheless. On the original album, it was the first track; on CD, it’s been moved to second position and the title track, a thirteen minute, high-energy big-band track has been moved to the opening position. This is the right decision, I’d say. The instrumentals aren’t all equal, but they’re all very good. The title track is maybe the best; it’s thirteen minutes of near perfection. The other perfect track is the Peaches en Regalia of this album, the three minute, unbelievably catchy Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus (sometimes I hate the titles SO much). Eat That Question is the one instrumental that wouldn’t fit right in on Hot Rats; it’s more Chunga’s Revenge, a dark, grinding, grungy theme serving as a great backdrop for some great keyboard work/guitar solos. The final track, Blessed Relief, is the most surprising song on the record. It’s a beautiful, layered track that is, by a country mile, as mellow as Zappa’s ever gotten on record to this point. This isn’t a problem; the track is an intriguing and captivating outlier in his career this far. Coming right after the dark frenzy of Eat That Question, it functions as a nice dessert course to this album, capping it off just perfectly. It’s probably not a perfect track taken on its own merits (though it’s certainly very, very good), but as the closer to this album, it’s undeniably perfect. The vocal track feels a bit like filler; cut it and you have an album just a hair over thirty minutes and, while that’s very short, it would have worked, I think, and created a better album with a sweeter flow and tone. Even with it, the album is basically a masterpiece, a compelling evolution of a lot of stuff Zappa’s done before, but with surprising twists and plenty of real passion backed with memorable themes. And it’s unequivocally good natured, upbeat & optimistic (interestingly so, given that Zappa was confined to a wheelchair for its composition & recording). Chalk up another one. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Zappa’s style evolves & expands with epic instrumentals; vocal track is basically filler, but the rest of the album is excellent. 4 stars.