(All Album Reviews by Sean)
OK prog fans, listen up! I see that look in your eye, the hesitation in your step. You are thinking about jumping into the deep end of the Frank Zappa catalog, but you are not quite sure where to start. I know the feeling, it wasn't long ago that I was in the same position. One look at Zappa's discography is enough to make anyone cower in fear. It is just so massive, it is almost intimidating at first glance. Often the easiest thing to do is nothing. But let me tell you, you are missing out on some amazing music if you pass FZ by. Don't.
This cd, One Size Fits All is aptly named. It is one of the most accessible of his albums, and strangely at the same time it is one of his more complex ones. It features most of the Roxy and Elsewhere lineup in a studio setting. On this cd it seems like Zappa reached a pinnacle of his complex works but mixed them with some melodic sensibility that made it all very memorable and fairly easy to digest. Yes folks, this is a great entry point. Also many agree that this is the one to start with if you are a prog fan. No this is not "prog rock", this music seems too great to be shackled with such a confining little term. This stuff is progressive in a truer sense. In fact, it seems that Zappa is doing his own version of prog rock and thumbing his nose at it's pompous qualities all at the same time. Musically he puts most of it to shame as well.
The opener "Inca Roads" is a good example of this. This tune is one of his very best and contains a stellar guitar solo from FZ that was lifted from a live performance and placed into the mix here. Most of this album was played live in 1974 so Zappa had plenty of versions to choose from for his solo. He was known for taking pieces of live performaces and grafting them into studio compositions and that happened here with "Inca". This riffs and lines in this arrangement are as flowery as ones found in many prog rock mini-epics, though all are executed with a sharper edge than most bands of that era. All of this seems to up the parody of prog factor. Toss in some lyrics that are sci-fi involved and you get an even bigger dose. Nothing too far from many lyrical themes that pop up in prog. Only difference is here Zappa's humor is apparent, for many real prog bands words like these would be sung with a straight face, unaware the joke is on them. The strongest cut on the cd, hands down.
There is a nice balance on One Size Fits All- this album has a contour to it that makes it flow really smoothly. After a busy workout with "Inca" we get a breather and a laugh in the form of "Can't Afford No Shoes", a twisted blusey pop tune like only Zappa could do. "Sofa No. 1" is one of the more famous pieces here and one that cropped up in his live set more than once. This is sort of an anthem, for lack of a better description. Exactly who's anthem it is though is never really clear.
"Po-Jama People" is another fun rock commentary tune that addresses people that are "boring me to pieces with the things that they say". "Florentine Pogen" is a really strong track that has progressive leanings. One of the more ambitious numbers here and a personal fave. This tale is of "the daughter of a wealthy florentine poooogeeen". Sounds like royalty at first. A little digging on the net reveals that a pogen is actually a type of cookie! Not so royal after all.
Next up, we have one of Zappa's spoken word pieces, a little ditty about a dog that was modified named "Evelyn". This is pure comedy and a fun one to try and memorize. "San Ber'dino" is another fun rock tune that tells the story of a girl that is "in love with the boy from the rodeo that pulls the rope on the shoot when they let those suckers go". Fun bar room style brawl rock mixed with a dash of prog.
Another fave is the tune "Andy" with it's punctuated pulse and modal flavor. It is the other ambitious cut here that recalls a prog flavor. "Sofa No. 2" closes things with a reprise of the 'anthem'. This album is about as 'prog' as Frank ever got, if you are a sucker for that stuff One Size Fits All is absolutely essential. Five stars and all that!