The Mothers of Invention - Uncle Meat (1969), 7/10

The sixth album from The Mothers of Invention, Uncle Meat is more of a sound collage than a traditional album experience, especially considering its release in the late sixties before this format saw broader success. There are a range of influences and compositional styles including jazz, blues, tape, and doo-wop, all to varying levels of success. The spoken word passages are hit or miss, sometimes proving an effective bridge between stylistic divides and others simply showing off dated mannerisms. “The Voice of Cheese” and the intro to “Ian Underwood Whips It Out” are good examples of successful thematic extensions. Zappa’s experiments with free jazz and formless compositions like “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution” and “Prelude to King Kong” prove more successful than cheap satirical tracks like “Electric Aunt Jemima” or “We Can Shoot You” which feel largely pointless in an album like this, perhaps growing pains persisting from previous projects and the surrounding musical landscape. The presentation of the record is charming and theatrical, something that The Mothers consistently excelled in despite their range of musical statements. This is particularly true during sections accentuated by thematic shifts like the closing “King Kong” medley. The melody in “Mr. Green Genes” exhibits Zappa’s penchant for catchy songwriting, something that would be amplified drastically later that year for Hot Rats. This album, however, serves more as a testament to the band’s, yet particularly Zappa’s, potential rather than their talent for execution in recording. It is also a charismatic presentation of the band’s peculiarities, a large reason for their fervent audience. The persistence of unnecessary filler weighs down an otherwise exceptional album that could be a giant in experimental rock if not for its pointless meandering into parody and broadly scattered focus. This is a record that requires siphoning through to find moments of brilliance rather than presenting its value in obvious terms. This is true for much of Zappa’s career but is strikingly apparent here. Still, the unfocused assortment of musical potpourri makes Uncle Meat an individualistic record, a significantly valuable and necessary artifact in rock music.