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A very slick musical comedy record: but not for neophytes
on 1 October 2009
Those who are allergic to Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan) will want to leave this alone. But even those who know somewhat of Frank's early '70s "musical comedy" period should approach this with caution.
The main event - the 24-minute "Billy The Mountain" - may be (as some critics claim) an allegory of the anti-Vietnam/militant hippie movements of the lats '60s. After all, when the mountain comes to life and goes on a wrecking spree, he only wrecks the right-wing areas of America (air force bases, weapon-manufacturer waste disposal sites, Glendale...). But the story seems to break down early, disappearing up a blind alley when the government tries to draft the mountain into the army with the aid of wimpish would-be superhero Studebaker Hock (think Richard Nixon as Clark Kent). Musically, it resembles a cartoon soundtrack, lots of sound effects and advertising-jingle-style snippets of music. (A much longer version on the "Playground Psychotics" reveals that a lot of edits were made to the performance). It IS funny, in spots, though: especially if you know a little bit about Californian small towns, their chain stores, car dealers etc. (As you can imagine, parts of the lyric were tailored to local audiences wherever they performed it).
The other notorious song on the album, "Magdelena", is a true-life tale of a French-Canadian Zappa fan who left home after her father started trying to molest her. Howard who co-wrote the music and lyrics, portrays the incestuous father as completely unrepentant. Frank had already dealt with this difficult subject matter in a couple of songs: at this point though, he seemed to be developing an incest fixation - fortunately it didn't last, fatherhood must have brought him to his senses. Howard also seems to have regretted this song as he got older. (Incidentally, this song started life as an attempt to set some verses from Lord Of The Rings to music - strange how things turn out).
The other songs are a spoof of a then-current commercial for double-knit suits (Eddie Are You Kidding, which seems to be a carry-over from the Turtles stage repertoire, judging by the composer credits), and acouple of re-arranged Mothers Of Invention oldies: "Call Any Vegetable" (which works) and "Dog Breath" (which is inconsequential).
Zappa collectors will need to own this album, but anyone in the early stages of FZ scholarship should delay buying this one (along with "Playground Psychotics") until they've heard the main Flo & Eddie era albums.