Frank Zappa - Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison (2011)

Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison   20:12
Buffalo Voice 11:35
Secular Humanism   6:37
Worms From Hell   5:31
Samba Funk 11:29
Total Time:    55 minutes, 25 seconds

As mentioned in my write-up for the Carnegie Hall album, I bought two years’ worth of posthumous Zappa releases in one big batch - that 4 CD set, this single disc and the double Road Tapes Venue 1. Of those seven discs, this one was the one I was most looking forward to hearing, because it's not just "new" live versions of the same old songs all Zappa fans have heard over and over and over - this CD actually has some new studio material on it. Despite the "Vault" supposedly being full of unreleased Synclavier music, not much of it has come out. With this disc some of those unheard compositions are finally seeing the light of day.

Yes, the disc includes two tracks that were already on Civilization, Phase III, but these are earlier, longer versions of those songs. Actually, part of Worms From Hell has been released before too, as the title music for "Video From Hell". But even discounting the previously released material, we still get over 40 minutes of unheard music, which is longer than several of Zappa's albums from the 70s and 80s. And as the liner notes point out, those interested in Frank's compositional techniques can compare these longer versions to the tracks that eventually got released and get a glimpse into Zappa's editing and refining process.

Speaking of the liner notes, the disc comes with a three page fold-out "booklet", one side of which is dedicated to photos of Frank (including one of him sitting and smoking a cigarette next to the synclavier), and most of the other side is taken up by an essay from Frank's synclavier assistant, Todd Yvega. He gives some insight into the editing process mentioned above, and generally reminisces about working with Frank. There's also a one paragraph blurb from Gail that, as usual, manages to make very little sense and yet take shots at Rykodisc for not doing things exactly the way she thought Frank would have wanted them done. I feel bad for Ryko that they lost the Zappa catalog, but I bet they had one hell of a party when they realized they'd never have to work with Gail Zappa again.

So the question remains, "is this CD worth spending the money on"? The answer depends on what you think of Frank's previous synclavier albums, particularly Civilization, Phase III, which this CD strongly resembles. The music is very dense, very avant and fairly random sounding, at least on first listen. CPIII has never really grown on me the way it has on some Zappa fans (some hail it as the best thing he ever did), and so far I'm only luke-warm about this CD. I certainly don't dislike it, and it makes for OK background listening at work (although some people would probably think I was insane for saying so). But I don't think it's ever going to grow on me the way, say, Jazz From Hell did. This new synclavier album is just too scattershot and, well, difficult.

But for those who want to hear everything Frank ever composed or who really love his "serious" music side, this CD is a must-have. And if nothing else, the 3-D cover art is pretty cool. In case you're wondering where the title came from, apparently Frank had put together a "scratch" version of this album that included just the first three tracks and gave it this title. Then he decided to use Buffalo Voice and Secular Humanism for CPIII, and this disc was forgotten. The current custodians of the vault resurrected it, adding the last two songs to flesh it out to CD length.

Album Cover

Image of the Feeding the Monkies album cover