There are some debut albums that truly stand out in music. My Generation
both set fire to different musical areas of their time. Freak Out!
is another one of those classic debut albums, introducing the musical world to the mad scientist of rock, Frank Zappa. A true musical genius, Zappa made it okay to write weird rock music. With his distinctive writing style, guitar work, and sardonic wit, he was a rarity in rock music -- a true composer.
In only a few words, Freak Out!
can be described as abstract pop. Much of the album is surprisingly accessible, yet there is still that touch of strangeness that makes it distinctly Zappa. He combines doo-wop, psychedelia, and straight-up rock and roll into an amazing musical statement. The style of the album is so strange and diverse, I feel it merits a TxT style review, so here it goes:
The very instant the album starts, you are treated to the anthemic Hungry Freaks, Daddy
. It features great guitar work, vibraphone, and even kazoo in the background. Throw in some very strong social commentary and a great guitar solo, you have an album opener to remember. I Ain't Got No Heart
is another exercise in Zappa's excellent composing skills. Similar to the opening track, it features slightly heavier drumming and a good horn section. It's not the anthem the opener, but still a great song, nontheless.
Who Are the Brain Police?
is where we first see that this isn't your ordinary '60's rock album. Even forty years later, it still remains one of the creepiest songs I have ever heard. With its scary political lyrics, plodding instrumentation, and chaotic breaks, it is a scare song for the ages. But when it ends, we are treated to Zappa's satirical wit in the doo-wop parody Go Cry On Sombody Else's Shoulder
. Featuring some of Zappa's funniest lyrics and hilarious vocal harmonies, it pokes fun at youth culture at the time, yet is still a musically competent piece.
is one of the most straightforward songs on the record, being straight rock. It highlights Zappa's guitar work and his love for weird instruments such as the kazoo. The subject matter is lewd, but it again uses Frank's sardonic humor as an effective social commentary tool. How Could I Be Such a Fool?
is another song that mimics the sound of the fifties and sixties pop while making fun of it at the same time. not an album stand-out track, but still a good one to listen to.
Zappa obviously thought pop music at the time was silly and trivial, and Wowie Zowie
fits his sentiments on popular music at the time to a tee. With nonsensical lyrics that openly mock the flower-power culture starting to emerge at the time and the overly happy-sounding instrumentation, he once again makes his social statement in the subtle, funny Zappa way. You Didn't Try to Call Me
and Any Way the Wind Blows
are more pieces mocking love songs and teenage love in general, though it they are definitely some of the more average (still worth listening, though) songs on the album.
I'm Not Satisfied
delves into the more serious matter, with its subject matter about depression and suicide (wich, incidentally, is easy to miss if you don't pay attention to the lyrics). With good guitar and a horn section, it effectively passes its message in Frank's unique way. Next is one of my favorite songs, the silly You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here
. With goofy lyrics, kazoo, and random interjections from a stereotypical doo-wop bass vocal, it's pretty hard not to like this song.
Up until this area, most of the album, while making social statements, remains fairly lighthearted and conventional. With Trouble Everyday
, the tone changes. It's a straight-rocker that reminds me of some material on Apostrophe
. Dealing with racial tensions at the time. It's probably the best guitar track on here, and it's often regarded as one of the best songs from this era of Zappa's career. We also start with the crazy songs in Help, I'm a Rock
. With a strange riff, bizarre vocals, then the band members screaming "Help, I'm a Rock" and "Help I'm a Cop," However chaotic it seems, it still has that level of control that even the strangest Zappa songs have.
It Can't Happen Here
is another one of those weird songs; it almost sounds like an out of tune barbershop quartet. After the strange vocal introduction, we're treated to some avant-garde piano work. Again, it first seems almost totally random, yet at the same time perfectly ordered. There is a seamless transition into the strangest song on the album, the 12 minute long The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet
. With strange noises, random vocals, and a steady drum beat, it definitely sounds like nothing around in the day. It's hard to get through all twelve minutes, but it's worth it.
This was my second Zappa Album (My first being Apostrophe
), and sadly, I only have those two. Thus, I am unable to easily compare it to his other material. However, many people say it isn't the best way to start out with his music. Anyhow, overall, it remains a great album. Yes, some parts remain dated, but it still is an excellent listen. If you want to hear some great musicianship melded with hilarious social commentary, I highly recommend this album. It does take some getting used to, especially for the stranger bits, but you will not be disappointed.
Final rating: 4.5/5