Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question: This is analog? You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Classic Meddling

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one. What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested. But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Coulda fooled me. 

The overall sound of the best originals is musical, natural and balanced. The Classic has that third quality — it’s tonally correct, no argument there — but musical and natural? Not even.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary

Sides One and Two

Side one is a step up from the average pressing, rating A+. The overall sound is rich, sweet, and natural with good energy. Like most copies we’ve played the top end isn’t fully extended, but there’s enough of it to make the music work well. The brass and winds sound particularly good on this side.

It’s the side two of this copy that really blew us away. There’s more extension both ways, more depth to the soundfield, and more ENERGY than we’ve ever heard on the album. It’s also tubey magical like crazy, with transparency that’s shocking. You hear INTO the soundfield on this copy in a way that’s all but unimaginable on the average pressing.

The bass too just could not sound any better, so note-like and full-bodied. The overall sound is musical, natural and balanced. The Classic has that third quality — it’s tonally correct, no argument there — but musical and natural? Not even.

Fresh Hot Rats

I’ve been listening to Hot Rats since I was in high school. It’s still remarkably fresh and original, even now. This is not music for the faint of heart. Audiophiles who prefer a steady diet of Patricia Barber and the like will find little of interest here. But for those of you who want to explore something completely original and a bit “out there,” this should be right up your alley — and if that’s the case, be sure to check out Waka Jawaka.

Reading in the liner notes today, I see that one of the engineers on this album is Jack Hunt, the famous half-speed mastering engineer who cut records for Mobile Fidelity and Direct Disc Labs. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

StereoMojo Review

From the sturdy slipcover and record sleeve to the heavy 150 gram vinyl, Classic Record’s reissue is superior to the original in every way. The music emerges from a quieter background with minimal tape hiss which allows the steep dynamics to power through ruthlessly. This is a very high-energy recording made even more so by Michael Hobson’s magic.

Michael Hobson’s magic? The only magical powers Michael Hobson has are the ones that can turn perfectly wonderful recordings into consistently bad sounding audiophile records.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Peaches En Regalia Track Commentary

This track tends to be a bit dull and could use a little sweetening on the top end on almost any copy you find. 1 or 2 dB at 10k might just be what the doctor ordered.

Willie the Pimp Track Commentary

This is one of the two extended tracks on the album; the second track on each side is “the long one,” and they both suffer from the same slight upper midrange boost. This song and The Gumbo Variations on side two are both difficult to turn up due to their tendency to be slightly aggressive.

Son Of Mr. Green Genes Track Commentary

One of the best sounding tracks on the album, and probably the best sound to be found on side one.

Side Two

Little Umbrellas Track Commentary

Possibly the best sounding song Zappa ever recorded. With the right pressing, the sound is PERFECTION.

The Gumbo Variations Track Commentary

Again, a slight tendency towards the aggressive, but great music. If you like hard bop sax, this track is for you.

It Must Be A Camel Track Commentary

The second best sounding track on the album, and some of the best music Zappa ever recorded. You have to love all the Edgar Varese-inspired percussion.