Frank Zappa: Lumpy Money

Music Reviews Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa: Lumpy Money

Two seminal Zappa albums fleshed out in a big, box-set kind of way

The second installment in Zappa Records’ “4tieth Anniversary FZ Audio Documentary” series exposes the Kraken lurking inside the bought-and-sold bodies of Frank Zappa’s albums. The title—cross-hitched from the 1968 albums comprising this set, Lumpy Gravy and We’re Only In It For The Money—appropriately links the two together (the parodic rock-pastiche of Money had time to emerge when Lumpy’s release was stalled due to label disputes). Lumpy Gravy was Zappa’s first official solo project, and Money his third release with the Mothers of Invention. Still, the shared methodology of the two albums—frenetic collage—helps answer the rhetorical question posed on the back of Lumpy Gravy: “Is this phase 2 of We’re Only In It For The Money?”

With three discs of primordial recordings, latter-day stereo remixes, interview splicings and instrumental demos, Lumpy Money now prays that these records are the opposite of sausages and laws—that we are better off knowing how they were made. To this effect, the wordless, orchestral Lumpy Gravy—which Zappa originally conducted in 1967 in Los Angeles—finally emerges, Zappa’s influences adorning the 22-minute maybe-ballet: Stravinsky crashes abound, underpinned by Varése-like rhythms as manic jazz darts through. It’s strange to hear the source material for what would become Lumpy Gravy—which was chopped up with spoken word interludes and psychedelic fuzz by 1968—in no small part because the unedited piece was already such a mind-bending mélange.

We’re Only In It For The Money, whose Sgt. Pepper-parody cover stalled its own release, gets less revelatory treatment here. But it needs less; its ’60s-skewering rock suite hilariously and compellingly lampoons the decade’s countercultural overindulgence, paranoid close-minded conservativism and slick or uninspired artistic movements. It still singes. That the answer to Zappa’s central question in freak-out waltz “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” (“your mind”) hasn’t changed much in 40 years makes you wonder just what Frank would do in 2009. My guess is reissue this album.

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