Friday, April 27, 2012

Frank Zappa 5: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

Despite his insistence on pushing the musical envelope, Frank Zappa was notoriously dismissive of most of his contemporary recording artists attempting to do the same. We’re Only In It For The Money made clear how little he appreciated psychedelia, and a different type of album grew out of those sessions, recorded concurrently with what would be their next studio album.
If Cruising With Ruben & The Jets really was, as the cover states, “a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio”, chances are it would only have been by stations already hip to the Mothers, as Fifties nostalgia was still a few years off. And despite a few buried references, this was the first Zappa-related album that didn’t sport any “offensive” lyrics; he was more concerned with referencing other music, be they doo-wop or classical. Some were songs originally dating back to his earliest recording experiments, and four songs are repeated from Freak Out!—not the last time Frank would remodel his music. Here the doo-wop dressing doesn’t make them any superior to the first versions, especially as they’re slowed down so much.
Arguably, the best songs are the ones that would never have been mistaken for authentic Fifties doo-wop. “Cheap Thrills” (“in the back of my car”, specifically) begins with a prelude, then tramples the same chord into the floor with a slightly sped-up vocal. A similar approach is applied to “No. No. No.” (which includes the quotation marks in the title), reviving some of the more parodic approaches from the first Mothers album. “Stuff Up The Cracks” is an overt threat of suicide should the narrator’s one true love decide to leave him, concluding with Frank letting loose on an extended wah-wah solo. An acoustic guitar is used as dressing throughout, and many of the songs feature “redundant piano triplets”, which Frank felt was a key part of the genre.
As part of the great late-‘80s catalog overhaul, Ruben & The Jets was notoriously overdubbed with new bass and drum tracks—not because the original masters were beyond repair, as Frank said was the case with WOIIFTM, but because he simply felt like it. Granted, the original sessions had two drummers, with the bass barely audible, but again, the anachronistic sound ruined the album for most Zappa freaks. This mix was the one also used in the 1995 Rykodisc rollout, as well as in 2012, even though WOIIFTM had been preserved to its original state. Fans resorted to bootlegging needle-drops of their old vinyl copies until 2010 with the release of the next installment in the Family’s “audio documentary” series, Greasy Love Songs. Along with the original 1968 mix of the album, a few alternate mixes and vault nuggets make it the superior choice to the ‘80s remix.

The Mothers Of Invention Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (1968)—3
1987 Rykodisc CD: “same” as 1968

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