Review Summary: Is this The Mothers of Invention under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?
When hearing of a project called “No Commercial Potential”, what is the first thing to come to mind? Avant-Garde nonsense? Droning hullabaloo? “Metal Machine Music”? Well, on “Cruising With Ruben & The Jets”, none of these come into play, with The Mothers doing…doo-wop? Now, most people when looking at the art work and listening to the music would never suspect this being a M.O.I. record (unless you know your Zappa that is). This was part of the idea for this record, according to Frank Zappa, along with the idea to make it related to “Uncle Meat”, with the concept of an old man transforming a band into anthropomorphic animals, as seen on the cover of “…Ruben & The Jets”
The lyrics, written by Zappa, was written as an intentional satire of love songs, while re-living their nostalgic teenage days, which consisted of doo-wop bands and many other kinds of past novelties of the 1950s. Listed on the cover was the quote: “Is this The Mothers of Invention under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?” Some could say that was a reason for the creation of “…Ruben & The Jets”, but that was not the reason. Despite the obvious hint that this was a Mothers album with the quote on the cover, “Ruben” turned out to be a hit with radio disk jockeys who believed that Verve unearthed an obscure doo-wop record. Later pressings under “M.O.I” would not receive as much airplay.
Going into “Ruben”, the listener must not expect this to be like any of the other Mothers albums due to the material, in which none of the quirky lyrics are present, with them being replaced with straightforward love songs in the vein of “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder” and “Motherly Love” from “Freak Out!” The doo-wop sound takes a few listens to get used to, and after the third or fourth try, it’ll be sure to grab your attention. Unlike on other Mothers albums, the guitar isn’t as prominent, with Ray Collins’ falsetto taking the stage, making the music even more authentic, fooling even more people.
“Cruising With Ruben & The Jets” oddly is an acquired taste, with it being difficult to grasp the idea of the Mothers doing doo-wop of all genres. There are no musical freak-outs present on the album, with the entire album being calm and serene, another trait of doo-wop. But when listening to “Ruben”, it gets tiring halfway through, making you wish you were listening to something more manic and lively, like “Absolutely Free” or “Burnt Weenie Sandwich”. “Ruben” makes for an engaging listen once you get used to the style, but is probably their weakest of the classic Mothers albums. But don’t worry; you can simply take a cruise in a Cadillac with Ruben & The Jets if you’re in the mood for nostalgic doo-wop love songs.