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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lumpy Gravy (1967)

by Frank Zappa
Overall Rating =

Best Song: SINK TRAP

"Wait a minute, that's not the right cover for Zappa's Lumpy Gravy! What the hell's going on here?"

Now, my dear skeptics, that is indeed the original cover of Zappa's first solo album. The record has a far more complicated history than what you may have heard. In 1967, Capitol Records commissioned Frank to compose and conduct an album of orchestral music, which was to be released on 4-track by the label. Zappa figured it wouldn't be a breech of contract with Verve/MGM as long as he was just conducting an album, so he went along with the idea and came up with the original version of the album. It was quickly withdrawn when MGM threatened to sue, stating it was against Zappa's contract, and since he was already work on the No Commercial Potential project – enough material to cover his next three or so albums – decided to re-edit the original Lumpy Gravy with some new stuff from his then-current project and released the better-known mid-1968 release of the strangely titled record.

Since the original version did see a limited release in the 1967 and was rereleased as part of the Lumpy Money boxset (this album, its re-edited version, the Mothers' third LP and some unreleased outtakes), it technically counts in my mind as a real album, so here I am reviewing it. It is pretty impressive to hear a rock guitar player compose and conduct an orchestral suite, but the impression pretty much ends and stops there. The lack of lyrics or spoken parts – other than what sounds like the producer commenting from the control room near the end – is one particular negative, because it makes the album humor-free, and whether you like Zappa's sense of humor or not (and it's certainly iffy at times), it's a big part of his identity, and lacking it leads to the inevitable disinterest in the record.

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