‘Freak Out!’ is a weird record. In part because TMOI were clear-headed enough to know it was happening and still let it. ‘Freak Out!’ is indispensible, a blur of intelligence and impulse that broadens rock’s emotional scope we so wish was whole every time we listen to music.
Frank Zappa was famously uninterested in drugs and that matters. The Mothers of Invention aren’t a psychedelic group tumbling into another hallucination; I'm really interested to see them push the unaltered mind as far as it can go which, as it turns out, if pretty far. I’m happy because I don’t want to think that I’ll never play shredding guitar without an accompanying weakness for LSD. That’d be dismal. Everyone thinks TMOI are Dadaist and there is some awesome nonsense, ‘Hungry Freaks, Daddy’ is a fantastically buoyant gazoo-filled thing cushioned in the pop that, whatever anyone says, doesn’t let the album down, but it’s still not as irrational as everyone pretends.
‘Any Way the Wind Blows’ is almost cautious and hairpins its way along, it’s another poppy thing that makes Zappa’s bizarre crusade as principled and moving as we could ever hope for. In the same way I suspect most Goths would drop it if they were invited onto a high school football team, looking back only to yell “Have fun with your Slipknot, losers!”, it’s made so much better because Zappa’s not stuck with low-charting alt-rock, we can be certain he has his heart in it. TMOI could’ve been a pop group and weren’t.
You’re allowed to enjoy ‘Freak Out’. Each song tips just beyond strangeness and starts being funny. Take ‘Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder’, it’s that fantastic type of non-committal irony that’s soothing when, as people often have, we’ve a stifling, sneering voice that gets off on smashing our doo-wop inclination to bits. It’s the ultimate get-out. I’m enjoying something and there’s nothing stopping me, base desire and higher-order cynicism that so often blur into unfair purposelessness are reconciled. Zappa doesn’t make us choose. I don’t think he even chooses. It’s not all funny, stern fizzlings and gazooings are bizarre but ‘Freak Out!’ rather creepy and thought-provoking beneath a bit of fluffy eccentricity. ‘Motherly Love’ I don’t want to think about, it’s uncomfortable. Villainous. And it lets perversion and trustworthiness mingle as unromantically as you’d expect.
It is weird but I don’t think it’s a ‘Just let go! Let the music hear you!’ affair and that’s good. ‘Help, I’m A Rock’ might freak some people out with its quirky and barren soundscape but vexing idiots is an album’s first test. Actually, writing this review I’m wondering if it should have been sillier.