Zappa's Hot Rats 2012: In With The Old, Out With The New


When Frank Zappa digitized his catalogue in the late 80s, he -- in some instances  -- went back to the multi-track tapes to create entirely new mixes. Choices were made, some good, some less so (released on the Rykodisc label). 

This Fall, the Zappa Family Trust began a reissue program (in conjunction with Universal Music). One of the most exciting treats in the series is the first appearance on CD of the original LP mix of Zappa's 1969 classic "Hot Rats," a pioneering jazz rock fusion release. "Hot Rats" was among the most contested of Zappa's reinventions for CD back in the day -- it boasted additional music (unedited takes) and the overall sonic focus was dramatically different. Its interesting, but the LP mix is historically, arguably, "ground zero" for the album. It sounds solid on the new reissue and works REALLY well when you turn your stereo up loud; the emphasis is on a group sound and combined instrument resonances.

Here's how the new old version stacks up against the old new:

   Peaches En Regalia: Radically remixed, FZ's manic mandolin-like guitar work was put way up front on the Ryko CD. Now it is much more subdued as a texture on the original and overall feels more like an ensemble.

   Willie The Pimp: The stark intro on the Ryko CD is followed by extreme left-right panning effects on the guitar solo. The original mix, in contrast, opens with the whole band rocking-out; Captain Beefheart's vocals are more upfront and FZ's guitar sound is rounder, more or less stationary in the mix.

   Son of Mr. Green Genes: Bathed in reverb, the Ryko mix is very different and less dramatic, with more bite on FZ's guitar tone. The original LP mix features natural sounding drums and unique woodwind blends punctuating FZ's round-toned guitar work.

   Little Umbrellas: The Ryko mix focuses on piano not Max Bennett's lovely bass work. The new CD reissue returns attention to the bass' grand acoustic textures. When the Ellington-hued woodwinds come in at the end, it sounds amazing.

   Gumbo Variations: This is the one track on the Ryko CD which keeps most true to the original, but adds cool studio chatter and extra music (4 minutes or so). The new CD's LP mix is more lush, rocking and bluesy, with Sugarcane Harris' sax wailing like a mad snake on the attack.

   It Must be a Camel: The lush original LP mix is like snoozing in your grandmother's quilt on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October; the Ryko version is more like nodding out in a chair in high school detention on a Tuesday in February.

So what do you do? Unless you have an original LP pressing or the 2009 Classic Records 200 gram reissue, you should get this CD.  Keep the Ryko CD as a curio or, rip it to your digital music collection and give the disc to a relative or friend who might be interested in learning about Zappa. The original mix wins hands down.



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