Soft Sell Conclusion represents the end of this phase of Absolutely Free – it crashes onto the scene, less than 2 minutes long, with a reprise of Call Any Vegetable, after the manic cacophony that was Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin. The atmosphere is celebratory, with friendly voices in the background, and Zappa, in a warm, encouraging voice, waxing on about “green things in general.”
He satirizes American culture briefly, even hinting at the anthem, before a seedier side of the melody returns alongside a skeezy harmonica line. Soon, though, “the pumpkin is breathing hard,” and the melody accelerates to a hurried and well-earned conclusion. The next tune, Big Leg Emma, won’t have a thing to do with prunes or pumpkins!
Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin is a fast-paced and bouncy instrumental of the sort that Zappa would continue to produce throughout his career. The song picks right up from the end of Call Any Vegetable, and the tempo builds, with the bass and oboe matching one another note-for-note.
Soon, a lightly-distorted guitar takes a tingling solo over the throbbing rhythm, giving the impression of a high-speed chase in some mythologized Old West.
Oboe provides some dramatic counterpoint to Zappa’s solo, which ripples and bounces right alongside the insistent harmony. It’s almost as though two distinct solos were being played at once – and perhaps that’s just what’s happening, with the guitar dominating one channel and the oboe the other – it’s hard for me to tell, I admit.
This is a long one, nearly 7 minutes, and the band doesn’t let up, charging through the solos as though the song were a sprint, not a marathon. About halfway through, some of the cohesion has left the tune, as though the mere act of indulging this wild journey had derailed it some. I’ve no doubt this was a conscious choice on Zappa’s part – after all, they’re “pretty good musicians,” and could easily keep the rhythm as sharp and consistent as they liked. Instead, the passion crescendoes alongside the insanity, chugging along at the dual lead of the manic guitar and lilting oboe. Zappa brings strong chords into solo alongside the triplets.
The oboe does a great job of building to the climax of the song, which yet again – now the third time – is paid off in the next tune, Soft Sell Conclusion.
Call Any Vegetable features a funky, rapid harmony, with a call-and-response blues structure, until the pre-chorus and chorus hit, which significantly break the rhythm, building and collapsing in seconds. The riffs here are fantastic, and before you know it, you’re hearing some beautiful yodelling about rutabagas.
We’re about halfway through this short tune by this point, and a Brechtian music-hall number creeps into the song, with some beautifully subtle and clever lyrics: “No one will know if you don’t want to let them know / No one will know ‘less it’s you that might tell ’em so.” A creepy, slithering oboe crawls all over the melody, contrapuntal to the harmonium in the background.
The tune makes a great case for vegetables, building to a screaming climax that will, for the second time on this record, be paid off at the start of the next.
The Duke Regains His Chops after the distorted mess that was Amnesia Vivace; it’s basically a reprise of The Duke of Prunes, with a funkier bass and yet more ardent vocals. Themes of love, beans. The uncertainty has grown quite a bit, as well: “I know, I think, the love I have for you will never end – well maybe,” Zappa sings, before a brief, manic guitar line screeches over the rest of the bar.
The bass sounds great, especially as the “Supremes” part comes in, and the song crescendoes. The many movements of the record so far collapse and coalesce; even Louie Louie is briefly parodied, before a quick, unceremonious end closes this part of the record.
Amnesia Vivace picks up from the big end of The Duke of Prunes, and soon collapses into a wailing, swirling cacophony of voices and percussion and maybe an oboe?
The song’s only 60 seconds long, and serves as an intense supplement to the previous song – and the next, in which The Duke Regains His Chops.
The Duke of Prunes is a melancholy guitar-and-keys number with silly lyrics about vampirism and dried plums. A magic go-kart is featured, contrasting and amplifying the classically-inflected music-hall production.
The song suddenly accelerates, and an aggressive, distorted electric guitar jumps into the mix. The lyrics are more or less repeated, with greater intensity, as other voices join in.
Building to a robust climax, uncertainty is introduced in the lyrics, while thumping bass rounds out the harmony. The Duke of Prunes grows to a conclusion that is paid off at the start of the next track, Amnesia Vivace.