2012 – The Return of Frank Zappa

As 2012 nears its end, the ZFT go and reissue Frank’s entire catalog, some going back to the original analog masters. Wowie zowie indeed!

Burnt Weeny Sandwich Cover Art

I was driving around a few weeks ago and a somewhat foreshortened pick-up truck pulled up next to me, blaring – in an instance of awesomeness hitherto unknown to me from passing motorists – “Valarie,” the wonderful last track from 1970’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich.

A week later, while walking around downtown, yet another motorist passed by blaring Frank’s stone cold guitar solo from “The Nancy and Mary Music” on 1970’s Chunga’s Revenge.

What’s going on here? It’s 2012 and Frank Zappa is suddenly everywhere, including iTunes (seriously never thought I’d see that)!  I can see the iTunes crowd now, seeing this long haired fellow with the most awesome mustache of all time, and wondering “what the wha?”

But I digress…

So what’s a Music Mook to do in a situation like this? Well, buy some reissues that’s what! I figured I’d start off slow, take it in like the fine vintage it is, and let it simmer around in my brain a bit. First I took a look at what exactly has been remastered, and what is just a simple reissue. The following list contains all the reissues that have been remastered from the original analog tapes:

  •  Absolutely Free
  • Burnt Weeny Sandwich
  • Weasels Ripped My Flesh
  • Hot Rats (sort of – this is the same 2009 Bernie Grundman version, and features the original vinyl mix which is vastly different than the 1995 Ryko)
  • Chunga’s Revenge
  • Fillmore East, June 1971
  • Just Another Band From L.A.
  • Waka/Jawaka
  • The Grand Wazoo
  • Over-nite Sensation
  • Apostrophe(‘)
  • One Size Fits All
  • Bongo Fury
  • Zoot Allures
  • Studio Tan
  • Sleep Dirt
  • Sheik Yerbouti
  • Joe’s Garage Acts 1, 2 & 3
  • Tinseltown Rebellion
  • Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar
  • You Are What You Is
  • Them or Us

Anything not on that list is identical to the original 1995 Rykos, so if you already have them, that’s that. BUT, for the ones that do go back to the analog tapes you’re in for a real treat. From that list I picked up Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Chunga’s Revenge, with Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka, Zoot Allures, Sleep Dirt, and Sheik Yerbouti on the way. I also took this opportunity to go ahead and pick up MOFO (Making of Freak Out!) which contains the original stereo mix, since the Freak Out! reissue is the same old Ryko master.

So, where were we? Oh yeah, Zappa! Of the two reissues I have so far they sound fantastic. Not just sort of good, not maybe sorta. No, these are Fantastic with an F three times taller than you. It’s like hearing Frank again for the first time, if you can believe that. It’s like all those countless hours listening to FZ for the past 15-20 years just disappeared and it’s all new again. I never thought that could even happen, that I could hear FZ again for the first time, but, well, it’s happening man. A time machine has been invented by the ZFT to take us through the passing eons, back to a time where new FZ albums were coming out at an astounding pace. Jazz is not dead…

Burnt Weeny Sandwich, an album that I feel is the peak of the original Mothers of Invention, is a revelation. Gone are the reverb soaked, tinny sounding mixes of 1995. Gone is the glitch during the piano intro of “Little House I Used to Live In.” Instead we get fat analog sound that is thick and warm and resplendent in the small details such as percussion and guitar. The doo-wop of the opening track, “WPLJ,” is doo-woppier, while the psychedelic masterpiece of “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich” is all the more so, Frank’s guitar swimming in a sea of clockwork percussion. “Valarie,” my God “Valarie,” is as greasy as it always was, so much so you don’t just listen to it, you put it in your hair. I simply cannot believe the difference between this and the old Ryko.

Chunga's Revenge Cover Art

Chunga’s Revenge kicks. Hard. Never before has this album rocked so hard, and with such heavy onslaught. “Transylvania Boogie” charges forth like a herd of storming elephants, Ansley Dunbar’s drums building up a wall of fury amidst one of Frank’s most biting solos of the era. “Twenty Small Cigars” is deeply jazzy, “Tell Me You Love Me” abounds in rock riffery just dripping with awesome, and the title track smokes as always. “Sharleena” sounds fresher, deeper, and just all around more satisfying than ever before. Even that refreshing little “Ahh!” during the intro sounds better than ever. Amazing.

We plan on doing full reviews for all the reissues that we purchased, including MOFO (I never realized how explosively awesome this album is), so check back soon.

In the meantime it’s 2012 and Frank Zappa’s music is very, very much alive.

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