Frank Zappa is a man of many sounds and iterations of musical talent; on one hand, he is able to construct these other worlds through music and create near full-motion films through just sound. On the other, Zappa is a creative mind that is able to adapt storytelling devices and while at times entirely satirical, he makes a social statement through his platform. In the process of a primarily instrumental album; Zappa delivers through the reliance on his instrumental performance, instead of a description through vocals.
Hot Rats is the eighth album released by Frank Zappa, but the second of his solo ventures that would feature only one other artist from his previous band, The Mothers of Invention. It would be a technological advancement in Zappa’s career as well, as this was his first album recording on a sixteen-track-recorder. An icon in music, but also in the very challenge of the limitations on sound, Zappa would feature himself on three instruments, and have Ian Underwood, a previous member of The Mothers play five instruments at the time while recording Hot Rats. Zappa would also feature Captain Beefheart, Shuggie Otis, Max Bennett, Paul Humphrey, John Guerin, Don Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Ron Selico in an effort to capture a wide variety of instrumentalists onto one single platform. Underwood and Zappa were the primary masterminds behind the tone of Hot Rats, funneling into the first opening track that would become recognizable through the ages for its twisted and warped sense of instrumentation.
“Peaches En Regalia” is a grand opening that features a huge assortment of pianos, percussion, guitars, and keys that create this overbearing load of noise. It is arranged so well that the sense of depth is almost easy to be overlooked as the flutes become almost backing material to the wide array of cascading and vibrant horns. Every instrument possible seems to be in use on “Peaches En Regalia”, leaving the listener with this feeling of wonder as Frank Zappa and his band behind him work like an incredibly intricate machine to collect and display the work together.
The style is then changed immediately on the following, “Willie The Pimp”, where Captain Beefheart makes this the only vocal track on Hot Rats. There is also the homage to the blues style and the ability to find a more tightly wound rhythm behind the madness. Don “Sugarcane” Harris makes up the violin being played on “Willie The Pimp” and does an excellent job of making the main rhythm through his strings. It forms well into the style of Frank Zappa, but even better to create a break in the heavy instrumentation. Zappa includes tracks like “Willie The Pimp” to take away from the very complicated style of “Peaches En Regalia” to instead let the listener catch a breath before being thrown back into the walls of sound with, “Son Of Mr. Green Genes”
Similar in the sound of “Peaches En Regalia”, “Son Of Mr. Green Genes” instead adapts to become heavy with lead guitar solos and this glorious sense of abrasiveness through the horns and capturing percussion. Hot Rats is a truly expressive piece and feels like a constant flow of consciousness from Frank Zappa himself. The wild and twisted rhythms and the always changing ability mimics Frank Zappa as a musician and allows him to be expressive entirely through his own instrumental merit. It is interesting to hear how the sequencing is handled and how each solo can flood right back into the track without even a moment of buffering. The instrumentation is handled so perfectly and feels genuine down to the core.
Through Hot Rats, Zappa adapts and creates immense feeling through his music. It is the proper rhythms and tone that Zappa takes to create this whirlwind of sound that allows the listener to continually find small details that were overshadowed by other moments. It is strange, but finds that middle ground between the vibrant and immaculately enjoyable.