I discovered progressive music in 1987, when I was 14 years old. I'd been going through my dad's record collection...he had a big one, easily 300 to 500 LPs, 99% of which were traditional or then contemporary country. However, in digging through the collection, I found a few titles that didn't look like they could possibly be country. I put them aside, however, as my eyes caught an even more gaudy cover...some weird looking guys with long hair and beards, looking like a greasy bunch of hippie biker gang members, and the cover was all posterized and freaky looking. There were no songs listed on the back...just some strange letter written by a high school student. And inside...references to all sorts of weird things...and the song titles..."Return Of The Son Of The Monster Magnet?" "Help, I'm A Rock?" "Who Are The Brain Police?" What the hell is all this about?
The album, in case you hadn’t figured it out, was Freak Out!, the first full length effort from a band named the Mothers of Invention, led by future musical groundbreaker Frank Zappa. My life was never the same again. The MOFO project/object is a 4-CD boxed set celebrating the 40th anniversary of that seminal double LP set. 73 tracks are spread across the 4 CDs, with the majority being previously unreleased material from the sessions that produced the 1966 release. Alternate takes, demos, basic tracks and more are interspersed with a wide range of interview material from 1966 through 1993, placing the album contextually in the time that spawned it.
CD 1 is likely of most interest to the less completist Zappa listener, as it offers, for the first time ever, the original 1966 stereo LP mix on CD. This is the album as I grew up hearing it, warts and all. Interestingly, despite the narrower frequency response possible in 1966, the material holds up well sonically. Freak Out! was never a densely orchestrated album; with the majority of the material being pastiches of early to mid-1960’s pop, super-wide frequency response was perhaps not necessary. This mix features none of the tinkering that FZ did on the 1987 mixes that became the standard for most all CD releases to date, and finally having this original mix on CD should be reason enough for the Zappa-phile to pony up for a purchase.
The set gets most interesting on discs 2 and 3.
CD 2 is primarily drawn from material that would make up most of LP 1. This is the poppier material (as far pop as Zappa got, really). Alternate takes, vocal tracks, basic backing tracks drawn from in-studio mono cassette recordings, and the like fill out this disc. Amazingly, the mono cassette sourced material sounds pretty impressive...easily listenable, considering the age and source. Hardcore Zappaphiles will go ga-ga over this, as it offers unique insight into the creative process that crafted these tracks, sometimes apparently from whole cloth. CD 3, on the other hand, offers a similar insight into the sessions that developed the three longer tracks on LP 2. Loads of percussion sessions from “Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet,” vocal overdub sessions, and some enlightening studio chatter (“Please, I have to ask you to hurry and clear the room. The studio time is costing us a fortune every minute, and we've gotta finish it off, 'cause we're still a low budget rock & roll band. We haven't worked for six fucking weeks. Please leave the room.”) are a highlight, but most interesting is the inclusion of 5 tracks culled from a June 1966 concert performance by the original Mothers of Invention from the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The band rips through the selection of tracks as if possessed. Would that more of this material were available...
CD 4 compiles some alternate mixes of Freak Out! material as released on the Mothermania compilation, as well as a few 1987 alternate mixes never before released. The rest of the disc is composed of interview material as referenced above. If anything, the interviews show how dichotomous Zappa’s memory could be when discussing his work in the present and past tenses (early interviews chiding the Beatles for ripping off Freak Out!, vs. later interviews where he stated that the album had no influence on music or society at all). Zappa was a musician who was only concerned with his material in the present tense; the disc and set closes with an enlightening response from the man when asked how he wanted to be remembered:
“I don't care whether I'm remembered. As a matter of fact, there's a lot of people who would like to forget about me as soon as possible, and I'm on their side! You know? Just . . . hurry up and get it over with. I do what I do because I like doing it, I do it for my amusement first, if it amuses you . . . that's fine. I'm happy that you'll participate in it. But, uh, after I am dead and gone, there is no need to deal with any of this stuff, because it is not written for future generations, it is not performed for future generations. It is performed for now. Get it while it's hot, you know? That's it.”
Thankfully, there are people who want to remember Zappa and his work.
Hardcore Zappaphiles will likely plump for the deluxe 4 CD edition of The MOFO project/object, available in all it’s spiffnificence with an interesting and informative 48-page booklet, a fold out Freak Map, and packed in a unique soft vinyl case. Less obsessed collectors may find the readily available in retail stores 2-CD version to be more palatable. The original 1966 mix is available as CD 1 in both sets, while the abridged 2-CD version features a selection of material from the other three discs (and, sadly, 7 tracks not included on the massive 4-CD version). Either/both sets are indispensable, and offer the Zappa fan a unique look into one of the most important double LP releases ever. (source)