In 1969, Frank Zappa released his second solo album, Hot Rats. Over time, the album has become a landmark, a classic, and one of Zappa’s most loved. Hot Rats was also the first album to be recorded using 16-track technology and other new studio techniques. Perhaps because of this, Zappa recorded a great deal of material, some of which would appear on his next solo album, Chunga’s Revenge and Weasels Ripped My Flesh. But, in typical fashion there was a great deal of material. Zappa had planned to use some of the material for a follow-up album. This didn’t happen for several reasons, but here, finally is the album as it might have been.
Overall, Funky Nothingness is a fantastic album and a welcome addition to the Frank Zappa catalogue. For the most part, the musicians playing with Zappa are keyboardist, multi-reed player and rhythm guitarist Ian Underwood, violinist, organist and vocalist Don “Sugar Cane” Harris, Wrecking Crew bassist Max Bennett and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. These names will be familiar to Zappa fans and are people who worked with him after he ended the original Mothers Of Invention line-up.
The album opens with the title track, a short acoustic instrumental, bluesy number, which is intriguing. “Funky Nothingness” is funky but it isn’t ‘nothing’. Very bare and basic. This is followed by “Frank Zappa And Tommy Vincent Duo I”. Again, very short but essential within the context of the album. Zappa has always used short songs effectively to introduce and bridge an album. “Love Will Make Your Mind Go Wild” is pretty much a standard late 1960s song, with the strong influence of doo-wop. It is a more commercial side of Zappa, but it still has trademark Zappa sounds and melody to match. With “I’m A Rolling Stone”, the listener is into more familiar Zappa territory. It is the high point of the album, lengthy and never boring. Zappa’s vocals and guitar work are absolutely brilliant, and it is great to have this track.
There are songs that are more what one would expect from Frank Zappa. “Chunga’s Revenge” and “Basement Jam” are fantastic, featuring some classic guitar work from Zappa and stellar performances from his band. “Khaki Sack” is more jazz-oriented but still maintains some very tasteful guitar playing from him. “Work With Me Annie/Annie Had A Baby” is a short burst of rock ‘n’ roll song with lyrics that don’t really make much sense, but it packs an incredible punch with some fantastic violin playing.
The full CD set contains two CDs of unreleased versions, as well as other material recorded during this time. There are several versions of songs on the final album, this material is important because it contains numbers that were not included and have never been released such as “Transylvania Boogie”, an epic jam and “The Clap”. These are great to hear. There is also an unedited version of “Sharleena”, which is better than the released version because the song allows Zappa to explore a couple of genres.
Funky Nothingness is another home run from the folks at Zappa’s estate. As with the other releases, a great deal of care has gone into the sound, mix and overall presentation of this music. It stands comfortably with the other archival material from The Frank Zappa camp.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: FRANK ZAPPA – FUNKY NOTHINGNESS