Normally, I would review an album that I had bought either on the release date, or a week or so after it had been released. Normally, I would review something from a fairly new band. And normally, I would do a review that just cut to the chase (okay, maybe not!). But an album like Hot Rats, and an artist like Frank Zappa, defy all kinds of normal. First of all, we'll start with the artist. Frank Zappa, in his lifetime, was a composer, musician and somewhat political agitator: sometimes through his music, and sometimes through other mediums. But whatever he did, it would be entertaining and inspiring, amusing and thoughtful. He lived fast, but he sure as hell didn'tdie young - and for that, we are grateful.
Peaches En Regalia. A track that can sound accessible and somehow off - kilter at exactly the same time. Peaches En Regalia (as well as a number of the other tracks on the album) shows off not just Frank Zappa's musicianship, but also his skill as an arranger of the music. Each instrument is well suited to the part, and it all comes together very nicely.
Willie The Pimp starts off with a blues style electric violin riff, then introduces the only vocals in the whole album, sang by long time friend of Zappa's: Captain Beefheart. The vocals blend in very well with the rest of the song, and fade out into a guitar solo, which carries on until the end, where it is joined again by the electric violin playing the riff from the introduction. In all, it's a great song, with a brilliant feel to it. It's also the most "rock" style song on the album, and therefore is different to the rest of the album. But that would never be a bad thing, especially for someone like Zappa.
Mr. Green Genes, a song from a previous Zappa album: Uncle Meat, is completely different to this one: it has vocals, it's slower, and has a completely different feel to it. Son Of Mr. Green Genes is an instrumental, the main melody being the same as the vocal melody on Mr. Green Genes. The track is less of a composition and more of an arrangement, but it's a fantastic arrangement at that, with some great guitar playing, as well as top quality playing from the other musicians.
Little Umbrellas has to be one of the most "Jazz" and the least "Rock" of all the tracks on this "Jazz Rock" album. There's some brilliant playing from Ian Underwood on this track and it's probably the one that shows off his talent on the clarinet and flute most. Overall, it's a great track, albeit one with a slightly sinister feel to it.
Now we come to The Gumbo Variations. A 16 minute, 56 second track that is based on improvisations between each musician, based on a guitar riff that starts off this (monumental) track. I said that Little Umbrellas really shows Ian Underwood's clarinet and flute playing. This track really shows how much of a talented saxophonist he is. All his improvisations on the riff are fantastic, even if some are a little off - the - wall.
The Gumbo Variations also shows the empathy Zappa has with the other musicians in compositions. Sometimes he will join the soloist and sometimes he will just let them take the spotlight. When he joins in, it sounds great, and when he lets, say, Ian Underwood, do a solo it shows that the guy can just suggest something for someone else to play, and you know what? It'll sound good.
This album finishes with It Must Be A Camel, a piano and saxophone driven track that finishes the album off very well. It may not be as accessible as Peaches En Regalia, or maybe as "rock" as Willie The Pimp, but it really shows you what Zappa can do.
In short, this album is brilliant. Not just for avid Zappa fans, not just for Jazz Rock fans, but for anyone who wants to see what a fantastic composer Frank Zappa really is. Sure, a number of people might not take an interest in this kind of music; may not really like it, but, in my opinion, I think it's one of those albums that you should hear at least once in your life. Trust me, even if you don't really like it on the first go - it'll grow on you.