Frank Zappa's liner notes for Freak Out! name-checked an enormous breadth of musical and intellectual influences, and he seemingly attempts to cover them all on the second Mothers of Invention album, Absolutely Free. Leaping from style to style without warning, the album has a freewheeling, almost schizophrenic quality, encompassing everything from complex mutations of "Louie, Louie" to jazz improvisations and quotes from Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's made possible not only by expanded instrumentation, but also Zappa's experiments with tape manipulation and abrupt editing, culminating in an orchestrated mini-rock opera ("Brown Shoes Don't Make It") whose musical style shifts every few lines, often in accordance with the lyrical content. In general, the lyrics here are more given over to absurdity and non sequiturs, with the sense that they're often part of some private framework of satirical symbols. But elsewhere, Zappa's satire also grows more explicitly social, ranting against commercial consumer culture and related themes of artificiality and conformity. By turns hilarious, inscrutable, and virtuosically complex, Absolutely Free is more difficult to make sense of than Freak Out!, partly because it lacks that album's careful pacing and conceptual focus. But even if it isn't quite fully realized, Absolutely Free is still a fabulously inventive record, bursting at the seams with ideas that would coalesce into a masterpiece with Zappa's next project.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey