Official Release #94. Finer Moments is a curious but mostly excellent compilation of (mostly) instrumental odds and ends put together by FZ in 1972 that went (mostly) unreleased until 2012. Disc one concentrates on the 1968-1969 Mothers. The first four tracks are from a 1969 Royal Albert Hall show that was partially documented in the film Uncle Meat. "Sleazette" is a great guitar solo, but the Mozart piece loses quite a bit without the "ballet" visuals. "The Wailing Zombie Music" sounds part-composed/part-conducted improvisation. "The Old Curiosity Shoppe" is a nice jam from 1971 featuring some nice wah-wah alto sax from Ian Underwood and wicked soloing from FZ.
Frank Zappa loved '50s doo wop music. He grew up with it, collected it, and it was the first kind of pop music he wrote (like "Memories of El Monte," recorded by the Penguins in 1962). Cruising With Ruben & the Jets, the Mothers of Invention's fourth LP, is a collection of such music, all Zappa originals (some co-written with MOI singer Ray Collins). To the unexperienced, songs like "Cheap Thrills," "Deseri," and "Jelly Roll Gum Drop" can sound like an average doo wop song.
The soundtrack to Frank Zappa's strange early-'70s film 200 Motels was always doomed to be a peripheral entry in his discography. The movie's story was not easy to follow, and neither is the record (not that plot was ever a big focus of the production). It's typically wacky Zappa of the era, with unpredictable sharp turns between crunchy rock bombast, orchestration, and jazz/classical influences, as well as interjections of wacky spoken dialogue. Those who like his late-'60s/early-'70s work – not as song-oriented as his first albums, in other words, but not as "serious" or as silly as his later records – will probably like this fine, although it's not up to the level of Uncle Meat.
Frank Zappa loved '50s doo wop music. He grew up with it, collected it, and it was the first kind of pop music he wrote (like "Memories of El Monte," recorded by the Penguins in 1962). Cruising With Ruben & the Jets, the Mothers of Invention's fourth LP, is a collection of such music, all Zappa originals (some co-written with MOI singer Ray Collins). To the unexperienced, songs like "Cheap Thrills," "Deseri," and "Jelly Roll Gum Drop" can sound like an average doo wop song. A closer look reveals unusual chord sequences, Stravinsky quotes, and hilariously moronic lyrics – all that wrapped in four-way harmony vocals and linear piano triplets.
Just three years into their recording career, the Mothers of Invention released their second double album, Uncle Meat, which began life as the largely instrumental soundtrack to an unfinished film. It's essentially a transitional work, but it's a fascinating one, showcasing Frank Zappa's ever-increasing compositional dexterity and the Mothers' emerging instrumental prowess. It was potentially easy to overlook Zappa's melodic gifts on albums past, but on Uncle Meat, he thrusts them firmly into the spotlight; what few lyrics there are, Zappa says in the liner notes, are in-jokes relevant only to the band. Thus, Uncle Meat became the point at which Zappa began to establish himself as a composer and he would return to many of these pieces repeatedly over the course of his career. Taken as a whole, Uncle Meat comes off as a hodgepodge, with centerpieces scattered between variations on previous pieces, short concert excerpts, less-realized experiments, doo wop tunes, and comedy bits; the programming often feels as random as the abrupt transitions and tape experiments held over from Zappa's last few projects. But despite the absence of a conceptual framework, the unfocused sprawl of Uncle Meat is actually a big part of its appeal. It's exciting to hear one of the most creatively fertile minds in rock pushing restlessly into new territory, even if he isn't always quite sure where he's going. However, several tracks hint at the jazz-rock fusion soon to come, especially the extended album closer "King Kong"; it's his first unequivocal success in that area, with its odd time signature helping turn it into a rhythmically kinetic blowing vehicle. Though some might miss the gleeful satire of Zappa's previous work with the Mothers, Uncle Meat's continued abundance of musical ideas places it among his most intriguing works.
Over the two-record set, Zappa manages to cover the entire spread of his interests. Masquerading as a movie in progress, it is a way of highlighting the struggle of trying to keep the band together against a pretty hostile, or worse, apathetic audience. The frustration of putting something out that is artistically brilliant has a particular significance, as music and film go hand in hand. The film dialogue is either hilarious or it will leave you cold. The former is the general consensus. Zappa was so far ahead that his earth life ended before we caught up with him. Weird but highly recommended.
Recorded from October 1967 to February 1968. Includes liner notes by Frank Zappa.
UNCLE MEAT was digitally remixed with approximately 40 minutes of previously unreleased material from the original sessions.