Hot Rats review by Frank Zappa

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  • Released: Oct 10, 1969
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 10 Gem
  • Users' score: 9.8 (27 votes)
Frank Zappa: Hot Rats

Sound — 10
Frank Vincent Zappa was an amazing guitarist, composer, singer, rock icon and musically an eccentric genius who also was even a film director and recording engineer/producer. Zappa had a long fruitful career with many albums released with the Mothers of Invention and afterwards as a solo artist and collaborative works. Zappa composed rock, jazz, orchestral and musique concrete works. This would have been his second official studio album after "Lumpy Gravy" and a more notable one as an in depth composer. He had written a plethora of experimental music over the course of his career in daring albums that have a lot of musical chops throughout his discography.

Frank Zappa really has a great attribute to offer in his music with his brilliant and unique personality. His work is very ahead of its time due to the sheer level of self awareness that emanates from Zappa's music and often lacing his humor and world views into his music in any given opportunity. He had poked fun at the hippies on his album with the Mothers of Invention called "We're Only in It for the Money" released in 1968 and less than ten years later on "Zoot Allures" he was making fun of the ridiculous disco set. His albums have always been good humored with jokes about love, teen angst, sex, and rock and roll as well as fame and societal norms. However, on this album, "Hot Rats," which was made quite early in 1969, had all of the joking and light humor gets cast aside in order to create a set of exceptional predominantly instrumental jazz rock and jazz fusion songs which may be mostly admired and known in the genre. This was the first album Zappa did after the dissolution of the Mothers of Invention and would feature multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood as the only member Mothers to appear on the album and was the primary musical collaborator. Other featured musicians were Max Bennett and Shuggie Otis on bass, drummers John Guerin, Paul Humphrey and Ron Selico, and electric violinists Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Jean-Luc Ponty. There is a richer sound due to the usage of 16-track equipment and this was one of the first albums to use that so there is a lot more room left for versatility and flexibility as heard on here, most all albums would be recorded with 4- and 8-track reel to reel recorders.

Lyrics — 10
There were plenty of other contemporaries at this time fusing jazz with rock, funk and avant-garde composition like Miles Davis ("Bitches Brew"), Santana ("Abraxas" and "Caravanserai"), Herbie Hancock ("Head Hunters"), the Soft Machine as well as John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But Frank Zappa's jazz rock tracks have a totally different attitude than the other artists mentioned. The joking is cast away but the sound, style and feelings that get made here are so much brighter fun and far more outsider not always appreciated by jazz and rock fans alike since they view them as how they think they're supposed to be ("serious," "deep" genres). Zappa has much to offer here with compositional chops and great playing skills that are hard not to admire all the things that are happening on this album. If you still can't see how brilliant and throughout this album is then there is still most likely even something for you as the first track is worth loving or at least liking.

"Peaches en Regalia" starts off with a rush of piano chords and what sounds like a speedily tremolo picked guitar lead. Zappa would be a pioneer with the use of tape speed manipulation to produce unusual timbres and tonal colors. On "Peaches en Regalia," "Son of Mr. Green Genes," and "It Must Be a Camel" Zappa plays "double-speed percussion." The usage of that sped up guitar effect gives "Peaches en Regalia" a really interesting sound and gives the song a flavor that is really quite special. After the introductory brass and woodwinds fly in, instruments in this spot on the have been on other records by Zappa like clarinet and saxophone but the way they are all stacked on top of one another creates an interesting sound and tone seeming as if one instrument alone is creating the sound. It's a really memorable experience in that respect and Zappa's unorthodox approach to writing melodies only helps the setting with flute, keyboard, and guitar sections chiming in and alternating leading to the bright jubilee of triumphant horns near the end coming off as quirky yet beautiful.

Use of tape speed manipulation to produce unusual timbres and tonal colors. Upon listening to "Peaches en Regalia" it becomes really apparent that the songs on here are really well planned out and composed as Zappa and the musicians on here jam so fluidly it feels like a stream of consciousness, the song itself is a notable peak in the Zappa discography and this album showcasing Zappa's compositional side at its sharpest. After the opener of "Peaches en Regalia" things start to get dirtier and looser even more jammed out, the whole album doesn't consist of meticulously worked jazz opuses, the other tracks do clearly have planned out segments as "Peaches en Regalia" does like "Son of Mr. Green Genes" which is the closest to "Peaches en Regalia." Most of the remaining songs on the album are much longer as beings stretched out with solos and improvs and it's the other side of the album that makes it just as strong also appealing to jazz fans who love fusion guitar heroism. The grittiest of all the tracks on here would be the real peak of the album chops wise. "Willie the Pimp" which features Don Van Vliet alias Captain Beefheart (who would make the legendary album "Trout Mask Replica" the same year with the Magic Band) on vocals who was a predecessor to Tom Waits going all out on the song. Captain Beefheart lyrically paints this image of a pimp in a great low down and dirty imagery along with his amazing shouting and shrieking. He really brings that raucous with that low down grooves solo and jam of the track giving that filthy feel as that sleazy fiddle plays all around this song which brings that attitude home.

The refinement comes back again with "Son of Mr. Green Genes" as the album is heavily layered and orchestrated just like "Peaches en Regalia" but on "Willie the Pimp" but on this song it gets stretched out with extensive soloing with Zappa's extraordinary playing and unbelievable solos that seem to be played with ease with fluidity proving he was such a great player and the guitar being an extension of him. "Little Umbrellas" tones down and can be considered a legitimate jazz song, not jazz rock, just simply jazz because of it being made and built around mostly composed moments the only thing that kind of lets me down is that it could have been stretched out more with some extra improv because of the different feel to this track being more mellow and lurching forward in a sad and mysterious way the lack of soloing would be compensated on the next track. "The Gumbo Variations" has Ian Underwood displaying his most fiery performance on the album with incredible screaming sax and the seventeen minute jam of jazz funk and rock with all the planning and orchestration being thrown out as saxophone, violin, and guitar play really hard and full force. "It Must Be a Camel" has angular and jagged melodies being strong as "Little Umbrellas" where Jean-Luc Ponty really has time to shine on the violin the song is highly rhythmic and makes large melodic leaps.

Overall Impression — 10
The album cover alone on this album is interesting and serene as Andee Cohen Nathanson would use photography which shows Zappa's taste for striking visual images, combined with the absurdly humorous featuring "Miss Christine" Frka of the GTOs. I love all the songs on here, maybe not for someone who likes their songs short simple and mundane to the point, but someone who loves complex and really just exciting and new. "Hot Rats" alone is not just a standout in Frank Zappa's discography but also in jazz fusion and jazz rock in general. Other albums in this style definitely aren't inferior but this would be one of the only albums that I know of that combines rock with colorfully eccentric and complex instrumentation. There is a strong personality, unique melody writing and jazz this would definitely become a classic for you. This would be one of my favorite albums of all times.

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