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Mats/Morgan: The Music or the Money?

There's a level of genius to how Mats/Morgan combine excellent jazz fusion, classical arrangements, off the wall antics, and extremely weird ideas on The Music or the Money?. However, an album must also be listenable and enjoyable, and that's where this new reissue of the band's seminal second album (which contains new cover art and additional material not found on the original CD issue, courtesy of Cuneiform) falters. For every moment that makes you appreciate their skill and originality, there are twice as many that, with an extremely avant-garde nature, make you think "what the hell am I listening to?"

The Swedish duo of drummer Morgan Ågren and keyboardist Mats Öberg began working together in1981 in a Frank Zappa tribute band called Hot Rats (which then became Zappsteetoot). Eventually Zappa took notice and invited them to join him on some projects during the remaining years of his life. Considering their origins, it makes sense that much of The Music or the Money? resembles the odder and looser compositions featured on classics like We're Only in it For the Money and Uncle Meat. Unfortunately, whereas Zappa knew how to structure these pieces in an engaging cocoon and place them between actual songs, Mats/Morgan does not. This reissue adds forty-five extra minutes to an already long album, resulting in nearly two hours of music that is simultaneously complex, unique, interesting, repetitive and very inaccessible.

The sequencing on the reissue is totally different from the original release. Both are two disc sets, and the original 1997 version classifies Disc 1 as "Mats" and Disc 2 as "Morgan." Now it seems to be totally randomized, even mixing the bonus material with the official album. None of that matters, though; this collection would still be a brilliant mess in any order.

Of the actual songs on the album, "If I Only Had a Clavinet," and "Coco" stand out. The former uses a cartoonish vocal and playful arrangement, bringing to mind the silliness of Ween and The Residents. The latter is easily the coolest song on here. It has a quirky English vibe like a less eccentric and simpler offering by Neal Innes (The Bonzo Dog Band). There is also some continuity, like how "Baader Puff" incorporates some of the same music as "If I Only…," and there is another track called "If I Only Had a Planet."

Most of what remains on The Music or the Money? is a mixture of odd sound effects, rapid drumming and piano playing, and a lot of experimentation with timbres and form. There is a lot of intelligence and craft behind the entire album, but one can only listen to such unconventional art for so long before becoming bored, frustrated and, with some of the higher tempo and treble pieces, annoyed. It's fairly difficult to sustain an audience without logic and hooks.

Mats/Morgan deserves applause for providing 34 diverse tracks here. Nonetheless, the large majority of this collection falls into the same classification; music with a lot of interesting ideas and accomplished playing that eventually fades into the background because it's not appealing enough. All music, if successfully enveloping, is created around a central idea, be it a verse, a riff, what have you. Listeners have to be given something to hang on to, to remember, and to be captivated by. The Music or the Money? simply floats into its own space; it's a fascinating journey with nothing to bring it back home.

Track Listing
Disc: 1
1. You Have To Wait in the Rain
2. If I Only Had a Clavinet
3. Fortsätt Mats!
4. Sylox
5. Asaw X
6. Watch Me Pleasure
7. Spinning Around 8. Jeriko
9. Coco
10. Inget Har Hänt
11. Tyrschon
12. Nordic Ice
13. Third Movement Farmor Märta
14. I Wanna
15. Let's Stay Positive
16. Harmonium 4
17. The Difference Between Powerful and Loud
18. Baader Puff

Disc: 2
1. Dr. Thor
2. Advokaten and the Jazz
3. Daisy
4. Banned Again
5. Griefen
6. Secret Room Out-takes
7. Resp Rush
8. Hjortron Från Mars
9. If I Only Had a Pianet
10. Q
11. I Know Where I Have It
12. Zepp
13. Bass
14. Advokaten Le Messiaen
15. Paltsug
16. Slut-text

Added: October 8th 2010
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 1969
Language: english

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