|Total Time: 82 minutes, 46 seconds|
It's hard to decipher what this two disc set really is, other than a collection of various live and studio recordings of the early Mothers of Invention. Gail's liner notes, as usual, are completely useless - seriously Gail, would it kill you to write something that actually explains what the album is and doesn't come off sounding like some drug-addled chimp randomly cut and pasted bits of Frank's lyrics and liner notes into a vague paragraph? But what this seems to be is possibly part of the "History and Collected Improvisations of the Mothers" project that Frank once said he was working on and had planned as a twelve record set. That never came out, although it probably eventually morphed into the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series and other albums.
The liner notes indicate that Finer Moments was put together by Frank, and his voice-over comment at the end of The Old Curiosity Shoppe makes it clear that this was intended to be a double vinyl album. Gail obliquely hints that Frank might have put this album together while he was in a wheelchair after being pushed off a stage at the end of the Flo and Eddie era.
So now that we kind of, maybe, know where this came from - what's on it? It sounds like a treasure trove for long-time fans - a double album's worth of unreleased early Mothers songs! Wow, could it really be? No, no it couldn't. Some of the material on this album is previously unreleased, but a lot of it will be familiar to fans who already own the complete Zappa disography. And let's face it, who else would be buying an unadvertised new CD release with little to no information available about what it is? Also, it's not really a "double" album - this could have easily fit on one CD with just a little bit of editing. Drop the already released Squeeze It (x3) and you're there. You know that's probably what Frank would have done.
Anyway, someone posting on the alt.fan.frank-zappa newsgroup under the the name of J. Roshi did a track-by-track breakdown of where all this stuff comes from, saving me the trouble. Here are his findings:
Mozart Piano Sonata - already on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore (Volume 5, disc 1).
You Never Know Who Your Friends Are - more commonly known as Harmonica Fun from the Mystery Disc, although the version here is about a minute longer.
Uncle Rhebus - King Kong from The Ark (also edited into some tracks on YCDTOSA #5). Probably has better sound quality here, since The Ark was part of the Beat the Boots series and this recording presumably comes from Frank's first-generation tape of the concert.
The Big Squeeze - already on The Lost Episodes
There is No Heaven From Where Slogans Go To Die - a slightly longer edit of YCDTOSA #4's You Call That Music?
Squeeze it - another edit of the same material as Right There on YCDTOSA 5 and the Mystery Disc's Skweezit
The Subcutaneous Peril - the instrumental jam from King Kong on the Carnegie Hall set
So that's almost three quarters of this "new" release that has already been released under different titles and/or on other albums. Kind of sleezy of the Zappa Family Trust to put this out with new titles (which Frank may or may not have given the pieces) and not provide any information about what the album is. On top of that, some of the unreleased stuff was probably unreleased for a reason - Enigmas 1 Thru 5 is eight minutes of Frank conducting Art Tripp through a percussion solo, and Pumped and Waxed is four minutes of Frank noodling around with synthesizers and electronic equipment (sort of a prelude to his Synclavier work). Not bad, but not the most compelling stuff in the Zappa catalog.
Despite it all, Finer Moments actually does hang together pretty well as a collection of the early Mothers' finer moments. Even the "out there" stuff makes a nice contrast to the more composed material. If you haven't already heard most of this music, the album is well worth picking up. And even if you have heard most of it elsewhere, the album should still please the ears of fans of early Zappa.