Absolutely Free – The Mothers of Invention
Released: May 26th, 1967
It must be made absolutely clear at the beginning of this review that Absolutely Free is not for everyone, nor is it even clear that this album is meant to be enjoyed. The Mothers of Invention test the limits of music and their listener’s patience in ways that are frustrating and if that sounds like something that you as a listener are not interested in, it is in your best interest to ignore Absolutely Free and probably The Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa catalogue as a whole. However, if you are willing, and more importantly patient, you will be rewarded with some original and interesting, albeit absurdist, sounds that might be classifiable as music.
Absolutely Free is split into two “Underground Oratorios” on each side of the vinyl, Absolutely Free, and The M.O.I. American Pageant, which are constructed as two separate pieces that are independent of each other. As a side note the CD and digital versions of Absolutely Free contains two singles, Big Leg Emma, and Why Don’t You Do Me Right?, placed between the Oratorios. It’s obvious that Big Leg Emma and Why Don’t You Do Me Right? weren’t intended to be on the final edition of the album because the tracks designated as parts of the Oratorios don’t really function as individual songs within movements, but instead as different stages within one big song, while the singles stand as different pieces of music all together. The Oratorios are fascinating from a composition standpoint. Were they conceived as single songs? Did the band know exactly what they were meant to play, or were they just given general outlines? Were the Oratorios performed in one take? There are so many questions about the conception and creation of this album that stem from listening.
Even more interesting than the Oratorios concept is the effortless mashing of the absurdist music of Absolutely Free and the music of contemporary musicians of the 50’s and 60’s. Throughout Absolutely Free The Mothers of Invention play sections of music that reference songs by musicians such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley, even at one point, in a fourth wall breaking moment, claiming that the music sounds like something from The Supremes, and it does. The inclusion of these musical references begs the question: Are The Mothers of Invention poking fun at modern music? The answer would seem to be a resounding yes, but it’s impossible to be certain about the intentions of anything in Absolutely Free.
It’s important to go into Absolutely Free with an open mind. The Mothers of Invention are won’t give any quarter to listeners who aren’t willing to listen to them, and that’s part of the beauty of this album. It’s not often that musicians tell their audience that it is the audiences fault for not liking the music that the band made. On one hand it can paint The Mothers of Invention as stuck up, or as musical elitists, but on the other hand it presents a band that is free from the constraints of commercial conformity, and free from the limits placed on them by the people listening to them. It presents a band that is able to create Absolutely Free.