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  Old Smiler  
  Mt. Gigantic  

Harlan Records

Release Date:
  Summer 2004  
Reviewed by:

It will not surprise my regular readers when I relate the small (and, probably, cosmically insignificant) nugget of information that I am a fan of the late, great Frank Zappa. Zappa's music spanned a not inconsiderable period of time, during which his style evolved rather wildly, as he was an eclectic old bugger. His fan base varies just as widely; some die-hard FZ-ealots eschew anything after 1969's Hot Rats. Others embrace only his post-Sheik Yerbouti (released in 1979) material. Yet others take the middle ground, so he discussions about which Zappa album is the best have been known to result in some fairly heated debate.

Personally, I don't much care for Zappa's early work with the Mothers Of Invention. Although there was always an obvious, underlying behemoth of ability in the band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers chose to tread a path which lead to nowhere but left-field. Although there are some gems from this period, I have never been inspired to buy, let alone attempt to get into, anything pre-Hot Rats. The freeform ramblings, even given my penchant for the musically bizarre, of Zappa's earlier work just do nothing for me.

This brings me to the album here in question, namely Old Smiler by Mt Gigantic. Mt Gigantic is a collection of friends, led by singer/songwriter Wayne (he may be Simon Jason Wayne, but both the CD sleeve notes and the PR material are a little vague), all hailing from Bloomington, Indiana. Old Smiler is a collection ofy'see, I could use the word "songs" here, but I could so easily insert "outbursts", "rehearsed jams" or "cacophonies" and still be quite accurate.

As I type, I'm searching the cockpit of my journalistic craft for the button marked "Diplomatic/Balanced Review Afterburner On". As I oft confess in these pages, I'm always up for a bit of weirdness. It's what makes this bland world revolve. However, I'm at something of a loss here, as Old Smiler just plain irritates and bores me in equal measures.

I'm at a loss as to come down on the side of it being either a full-on homage to the Mothers Of Invention (but completely lacking the inherent wit of the latter) or just a collection of self-indulgent in-jokes betwixt Wayne and his friends who appear on the album. There are elements of late-70s punk in there, traces of late-60s psychedelia and crumbs of melodic awareness. But there is no feel of a unifying channel for it all. If Wayne wrote these tracks, then he must be in possession of an immense musical ability. I don't buy that claim, though; sure, he may have dreamt up the lyrics whilst walking around his home town, but the musical element sounds too much like a lo-fi, pre-determined improvisation to have been "written".

My normal M.O. is to listen to each review item in the car a few times, then at home a few times and then whilst I'm writing the review. Old Smiler is so tedious, dear reader, that I've just turned it off, removed the CD from the PC and sit here in silence, with just the tapping of the keyboard keys as an accompaniment. So similar are the songs, with predictable time signature changes and falsetto vocals on every track, that I cannot even be bothered to give a short summation for each one. As early as the first five seconds of track two, the phrase "that joke isn't funny any more" was entirely apt.

I'm sure that Wayne and his mates are very proud of this album. As a collection of immature observations, in-jokes and something to annoy/outrage their parents with, it must have been a triumph. As a piece of work to provoke someone to dig into their pocket and part with actual currency, I predict it is/was/will be a miserable failure. There's nothing at all wrong with trying something different. It's how the music of this and the last century has evolved, and I salute pioneers with both hands. But that is just my point Mt Gigantic's attempt to sound dangerous, loud and wry are nothing new, as a tour through the Mothers Of Invention's back-catalogue will attest to.

It's usually at this point that I mention the high musicianship/production of the item being reviewed. In this case, I can't mention either of those in anything even approaching a favourable light. Recorded on an old reel-to-reel over a previously used tape, Old Smiler was always destined to be rough and ready sounding, but that should not be an excuse. Musicianship here is rudimentary, to say the least (and, before someone levels the question "Pah! Could YOU do better?", I must say that I can and do), as is the sound quality. Album liner notes thank one Mike Dixon for his work in mixing and mastering. Beyond questioning whether it was mixed and mastered, it seems like the Purple Heart would have been a more fitting emblem of thanks. Although I doubt that the institution Dixon is now a resident of following his involvement with this would allow him to have anything sharp in his room.

To paraphrase an old Broadway critic, I came away from this album whistling the cover art.

Would I recommend this album? Well, if you're a friend of Wayne or any other members of the band, then yes, by all means buy it. If, however, you feel that your hard-earned pound/dollar would be best served by buying something of more use, like a chocolate fire-guard or an ash-tray for your motorcycle, then I can only commend your choice, dear reader.

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