Frank's worst blunder: poorly re-recorded masterpiece
David Goodwin | Westchester, NY United States | 07/14/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Frank Zappa isn't exactly known for treating his back catalogue very well, with remixes, poor remasterings, and other "tamperment" dotting his reissue programme. The infamous 1984 remix of We're Only In It For the Money--originally released as part of the "Old Masters" boxed-set, and later coupled with "Lumpy Gravy" on this 1986 CD--is *the* example of why certain artists clearly don't have the best judgement when it comes to their old masterworks. "We're Only In It For the Money" is one of the greatest records of all time, but in this form it is a masterpiece diluted. Yes, the bass and drums are re-recorded; yes, the entire thing is remixed; yes, parts on the original that were "censored" (although more often than not by Zappa's own hand) are restored. Yet what's far more important is how slipshod the entire effort is.
A bit of history. In the early 1980s, Frank finally seized control of much of his back catalogue, acquiring for the first time many of the masters used to make his earliest albums. Two things occured simultaneously: Frank discovered that many of the older Verve masters were not in optimal condition, suffering from years of neglect in MGM's storage facility; and Frank, enthralled with the promise of 80s technology in general and digital technology in particular, came to the conclusion that the 60s-era fidelity of these recordings was simply unsuited to the new digital climate. Most of the resulting "Old Masters" LPs were simply "digitally tweezed," but Frank used the "damaged tapes" stories as a pretense to remix "Money," "Lumpy Gravy," and "Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets." This may not have been controversial in and of itself (Zappa would produce a perfectly suitable remix of "Freak Out!" in 1987), but Frank *also* decided to re-record the drum and bass tracks on much of Money, Ruben, and Lumpy Gravy (although the remix of "Gravy" was never released in its entirety). Later, Frank would admit that this particular decision was motivated less by practical concerns and more by a dislike for the sound quailty and performance of the original tracks.
Whatever the case, the result was disastrous. A previous reviewer points out that the new bass tracks, played by the otherwise-excellent Arthur Barrow, don't sound anything like a 1960s bass track, which is completely true. I find the new drums by Chad Wackerman to be more problematic, however. The drum sound is directly from the Them or Us/Thing Fish era (in other words, digital, likely direct-inject) and sounds terribly freeze-dried. Worse, Chad's tendency to "play along" with melody lines totally changes the beat of many of the tracks. Zappa's total disregard for the heart and soul of his most celebrated album adds insult to injury, as while the re-record of "Ruben" is at least competently assembled, "Money" is marred by off-key instruments (dig the bass during "Harry, You're a Beast"), poor digital edits complete with "clicks" attempting to replicate the originals, faders accidentally left up, and the bizarre decision to speed up several tracks ("Concentration Moon," "Let's Make the Water Turn Black"...perhaps done to alter the drum sound?) to levels of chipmunkdom that far surpass the original's helium-voiced tendencies. It sounds like the sort of rough mix that should have never escaped someone with such a reputation for perfectionism.
And yet, for some reason, this version of the album was the only one in print for nearly ten years. The 1995 issue of the album isn't a sonic wonder, but it at least captures the spirit that makes the album what it is. I didn't think the 1980s re-record could possibly be as bad as I read, and if you don't know what the original's supposed to sound like you may very well find it to be perfectly enjoyable.
Anyway, enough about "Money." The draw of this twofer is the pairing with "Lumpy Gravy," "Money's" sister album and the first Zappa solo disc. I really like the thing, but I know some people who've never warmed to its bizarre mixture of spoken word inanity, orchestral pieces, and...well, whatever Frank had lying around. While the sound quality of "Gravy" on this disc isn't too hot (it, like all of Zappa's 1986 discs, is mastered at an absurdly low volume), it's the only place on CD to find the original mix of the album. The 1995 re-release beats the sound quality of this one by a long-shot, but incorporates some raw mix segments that occasionally vary from the original in mix content and edits between sections. Essential for completists, in other words.
Verdict: I picked up the twofer of "Money/Gravy" out of morbid curiosity; I had read about the horrors of the remix, but figured it couldn't possibly be that bad. In my opinion, it *is* that bad, but you very well may disagree. That said, the current stock discs are simply a better idea; unless you're a completist who absolutely needs the remix and the totally-original version of "Gravy," you're better off avoiding this release."
4 stars for leaving ''lumpy gravy'' alone
David Goodwin | 08/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"remixing ''we're only in it for the money'' is the worst thing that zappa ever did. good thing they reissued the original album, and it's good that it has the original sgt. pepper cover, and it's good that they left ''lumpy gravy'' alone, but for some reason lumpy gravy has a really low volume, even if you play it really high on any stereo, i've heard the reissued version, it sounds louder and cleaner,
but ''money'' sounds really pixelated and 80's
with the new drums (drum machines?), bass, and the extra
acoustic guitar. geez. 1 star to the remix.
(it's good to here the unedited material)
4 stars to lumpy gravy for leaving it somewhat alone."
Fairly redundant now - don't buy this!
gigidunnit | Tokyo, Japan | 02/17/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Until (and if ever) the 2009 Zappa Family Trust release "Lumpy Money" gets on Amazon, here's a post on the old page, just in case you're here because you're interested in the 1984 remix of "Money" -- you know, the dreaded one with the new rhythm track. The whole 1984 "Money" is also on "Lumpy Money", along with the original mono version and a bunch of other stuff, so grab that instead.
As for "Lumpy Gravy", the person who was thankful Zappa left that alone on the 1986 CD didn't realize it but -- Zappa had a new 1984 remix of THAT, too, sitting in the vaults. But for some reason he didn't issue it on the two-fer, or someone messed up. That, too, has all the new rhythm track, along with some bizarre and mind-altering moments such as the whole Mammy Nun chorus singing along to the opening tune! It's also on "Lumpy Money" in all its infernal glory. And yep, it's just like the Valley Girl's toenails."