Absolutely Free was the Mothers of Invention's second album, quickly following their debut, Freak Out. Having found the debut so intriguing and overall thought-provokingly creative; I picked up the second release hoping for more of the same. It was in many ways. Produced on a meager budget from MGM/Verve for around $11,000, and though Zappa confesses that they worked under ridiculous recording schedules, making it impossible to perfect anything, Absolutely Free is still a high watermark for music.
The album opens with a satiric voice announcing the President of the United States, only having said President spouting off gibberish, sounding like a drooling moron. And from there, you know you're going on a weird ride into the heart of America. “Plastic People” is, of course, addressing those folks (politicians, CIA, businessmen, and even girlfriends) that are superficial. Having run into some of these slimy folks early on in his career by being coerced into making music for a porn film, and then busted for such nonsense; I'm sure Zappa was ready to skew a few targets. Actually, “Plastic People” has also reminded me of the song “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen. Granted it's mutated, but I get the sense that Zappa and boys are also paying homage to all those garage bands of that era.
This song, as much of the album, leads directly into the next song, in a conceptual manner leaving no blank space between them (much like Sgt. Peppers). “Duke of Prunes” starts out on a somber melody with surreal words about go-carts, vampires, and cheese segueing into the musical concrete section of “Amnesia Vivace” (one of my favorite parts due to its surreal nature). This is a song about love and prunes, gee, not many of those around these days!
”Call Any Vegetable” is a song about vegetables, they keep you regular, they're real good for you. I love the way this section starts out, with a horn being the predominant instrument, which shows the Mothers far ahead in compositional skills from the norm of most bands of that day--which usually employed: drums, bass, guitars. Listen to the jam at the end of this section as it enters the “Invocation And Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” for one of Zappa's most smoking and jamming guitar solos.
The Ryko disc CD offers two additional tracks: “Big Leg Emma” and “Why Don'tcha Do Me Right”, which is nice. But if they are going to do that I wish they'd have left these at the end of the CD, allowing the original music and tracking to remain intact--rather than breaking up the original flow of the album. (minor quibble--I know) But I suppose one could consider these as intermission songs from the original album that begins with “America Drinks”. This song and “Status Back Baby” (and really the rest of the album) address growing up in American society, high schools, and all that comes from that ugly, crazed hormone period of our lives. “Brown Shoes Don't Make It” epitomizes Zappa's observations of mainstream America and how we easily succumb to a life of slacker jobs, TV, and country club lifestyles. In a broader sense, Absolutely Free is greater than the sum of its parts. Also speaking from an artworld sensibility it has the same panache and impact, that say, the visual works of Edward Kienholz, Robert Rauschenberg, and others approached and uses musical inspiration from such diverse classical composers as Varèse to Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring”.
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