zdbd – The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet

This song, the longest and most ambitious (and also last) on 1967’s Freak Out!, was apparently intended to be the backing track for a yet-more elaborate song that Zappa was prevented from producing. As it stands, it’s an wandering, often dull and repetitive work, with some interesting and arresting moments scattered throughout its bloated, 12 minute run time.

The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet opens with a conversation between Susie and her conscience, who asks her “what’s got into ya?” This thread will be picked up at the start of Zappa’s next record, Absolutely Free. As we wonder what indeed has got into her, the song moves into its first major phase, a spacey, drum-led jam with a high-pitched vocalist interacting back and forth with a theramin. Other instruments jangle to life as the voice dies away, and the drums keep at their funky beat while the band basically makes noises, and an ethereal chorus fades in and out.

As the percussion begins to grow haywire, a plinky piano joins in, and some chanting voices, as though a seance were possessed, moan and whirl. Suddenly, the drums pick up, and the tempo jumps. More screams and vocalisations abound, and the theramin wobbles back in. Shouts, theramin, and a drumkit that won’t quit.

This isn’t a great song, though it can be worth a listen now and again. Too weak an ending for Freak Out!, in my estimation, and I can’t help but wonder what the final tune would have been like had Zappa been allowed to finish it. All the same, there’s plenty more of this avant-garde type stuff to come on further records, so it’s not a huge loss.

By about five minutes in, a deep voice is featured centrally in the mix, speaking a jibberish language much like we heard on Help I’m A Rock. More sex sounds, too, come in, and of course, the drums never let up. Other variations and combinations of voices and noises continue, as the general dissonance of the song grows. Strange popping, bubbling noises enter the mix, sounding almost like someone taking a draw from a digital bong. Thick respiration dominates the mix as the drums recede, giving up the floor to a weirdly fast, harmonium-led passage of “Louie Louie,” which was a favourite riff of Zappa’s to parody.
Suddenly, the music drops away, and Zappa asserts: “America is wonderful,” before being joined, a-capella, by others, as well as a digital repetition of his own voice repeating “wonderful” like a mantra. The music and bong-sounds return, with a distinct Indian flair – the drums are gone, and a sitar-type (but probably not sitar) sound joins the mix. Jungle animals screech. The clicking, bubbling, breathing, all grow, until Susie Creamcheese can be heard, in a drugged daze, reacting to the jibberish stylings of the main vocalist. To my modern ear, he sounds like a Sim on speed. I suspect this passage, more than most, is meant to capture the LSD-laden aesthetic of the late 60s. In fact, Bobby Beausoleil, who had a small role in the Charles Manson saga, apparently has a vocal credit somewhere on this very album.
Madness builds. Breathing, screams, shouts, give way to a distorted, honky-tonk style saloon piano, with a husky, nonsense voice semi-singing over top. This presages the more explicit music-hall element that will be draped all over Zappa’s next record. A funky clicking percussion, almost sounding like spoons played on one’s knees, accompanies an a-capella segment where Susie, Zappa, and others, shout about cream cheese. Their voices then are played backward in a slow, eerie manner that recalls the timbre of It Can’t Happen Here, before being played forward and at great speed. A voice asks, “Did you pick up on that?” and I get the impression that to this question, there is no one correct answer. The chipmunky cream cheeses continue into the final piano pluckings that punctuate the last minute of this strange and ambitious song – and album. Freak Out! concludes with its principles doing exactly that.

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