Uncle Meat

Frank Zappa / Mothers Of Invention

Rykodisc, 1969


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Uncle Meat was legendary in the catalog of the Mothers Of Invention for being the soundtrack to a movie that wasn't officially completed until long after this iteration of the band had dissolved - yet its true legend, to me at least, is that this could well be the best album the Mothers ever released.

Everything that Frank Zappa and crew had been working towards in terms of musical development and band strengths came together in a jazz-rock fusion over the course of these two discs, and, were it not for 40 minutes' worth of film dialogue tacked onto the CD release, this would be a perfect album.

Like other releases, Uncle Meat intersperses conversation (here with Suzy Creamcheese telling about life with Zappa) with a mixture of all styles of music. On songs like "Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme" you can hear the growth of Zappa the composer as well as how musically tight the Mothers had become. Likewise, the freeform guitar work on "Nine Types Of Industrial Pollution" never goes too far over the edge, and keeps the listener locked in on every note.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Some of the musical influences are a bit surprising - is it me, or do I hear hints of klezmer music in "The Legend Of The Golden Arches"? Still, Zappa is able to intersperse all of them into a musical unit so tight that even light would have a hard time escaping from these songs. Special note goes to the over-the-top jazz saxophone work of Ian Underwood, especially noted on "Ian Underwood Whips It Out". Maybe this is what started me on the path towards appreciating hard-bop jazz.

Yet there is still plenty of room for humor on Uncle Meat, though Zappa and the Mothers are careful not to let the laughs weaken the music. A great example is "Louie Louie (At The Royal Albert Hall In London)," where it sounds like a spur-of-the-moment decision to bring in the theater's pipe organ, but the response from the crowd says it all.

The highlight of the album is the legendary jazz-rock piece "King Kong". Cut into six sections (not including "Prelude To King Kong" earlier on the album), this work is the showpiece of the Mothers Of Invention, taking a long stretch of music and keeping you locked in until the final note has faded out. Very few artists can do that, even with a five-minute piece of music, let alone over 15 minutes' worth. Yet the Mothers keep things fresh and exciting, and they never disappoint with this selection.

For all of Uncle Meat's successes, why would they dare to risk ruining a great thing with the inclusion of 40 minutes' worth of film dialogue, describing some incredibly bizarre practices? I've never seen the film, and after hearing all of this dialogue (which is boring as hell), I will definitely not be adding it to my Netflix queue. About halfway through the first selection (which clocks in at over 37 minutes), I found myself wishing I still had my cassette version of Uncle Meat, which cut all of this water-logged crap. Fortunately, last time I checked, all CD players came with "forward" buttons, so you don't have to be like the helpless reviewer and can hit that button to pass right through the drivel to get back to the music.

Film dialogue aside, Uncle Meat may not be the album to top your list of "must-own" Zappa CDs, but it damn well belongs there.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.