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(Post-1976 album section)



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A rag-taggy album, with material ranging from utterly hilarious comic epics to completely unnecessary instrumentals.


Track listing: 1) The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary; 2) Revised Music For Guitar And Low-Budget Orchestra; 3) Lemme Take You To The Beach; 4) RDNZL.

Cool album cover, doncha think? That's hardly Frank on it, though... But it sure as hell ain't Greggery Peccary, either. Now who's Greggery Peccary, you might ask me? Well, I personally don't know anything about Greggery's relations with famous actor Gregory Peck, but according to Frank's own description of the character, Greggery Peccary is a 'nocturnal gregarious wildswine', and a peccary in general is ' a little pig with a white collar that usually hangs around between Texas and Paraguay'. And, while we're at it, it wouldn't be useless to note that the entire Side A of Frank Zappa's 1978 album Studio Tan is occupied by a twenty-minute 'suite' ('fairy-tale?' 'symphony?') dedicated to a detailed description of the dramatic destiny of above-mentioned Greggery Peccary.

Thanks goodness it is, too. Without the 'lyrics' ('narrative'? 'delirium'?), the whole first side would be just a bunch of avantgarde jazz noises, atonal jams and self-indulgent demonstration of Frank's band's playing skills which we all know anyway. As it is, the whole thing's absolutely hilarious - at times reminding me of the famous Peter Gabriel epics. I don't even accept this piece as 'music' - I couldn't do that; I take it as a funny, entertaining 'story', which, for once, contains almost no sexual connotations or hints at obscenity, a thing so unusual for Frank. Along the way, Greggery Peccary, impersonated in a rather funny way by George Duke, works as a 'trend-monger', invents the calendar, gets pursued by hunchmen, falls into the jaws of Billy The Mountain and visits the famous 'philostopher' Quentin Robert DeNameland. In other words, the story makes even less sense than Apostrophe', but there's just something about it which doesn't allow me to express any signs of 'ehn'. Maybe it's the fabulous 'Greggery Peccary' vocals? Every time that the little swine steps in with its synth-processed vocals, I simply go all crazy with laughter. Or maybe it's just the prospect of a little 'gregarious swine' working as a 'trend-monger'. Because there's hardly anything catchy on here - no stable melody anywhere in sight, just nice snatches from time to time. Anyway, I suppose that first time around the song will please just about anybody; it's, however, a serious question if you'll be able to enjoy it afterwards. I still am. But yeah, I admit the story is really senseless - I mean, there's not even any social critique buried inside, just pure, refined nonsense.

But in any case, you know, there's one section in the song that really deserves more attention. It's when Greggery gets caught by Billy The Mountain and Billy produces a lot of brown clouds and Greggery begins to question himself: 'Who is making those new brown clouds?/Who is making those clouds these days?' I think the vocal melody there is awesome, simply awesome. It gets reprised later, at the very end of the track, and makes a perfect ending for the suite. Gee. I don't even know what to think about it.

Unfortunately, the second side doesn't exactly compensate - you'd expect the tunes to be shorter, but they aren't. There's just one short 'song' - 'Lemme Take You To The Beach', and it's very good, a sparkling parody on... on... well, I don't know if there was ever such a genre as 'surf-disco', but that's what it supposedly is. Guitarist Davey Moire sings it in a ridiculous falsetto, and, along with Don Brewer's bongos, it sounds so stupid that yeah - bingo! score! One more point for old Frank here.

The other two tunes are lengthy instrumentals, and both are an acquired taste indeed. Truthfully, I can hardly stand 'Revised Music For Guitar And Low-Budget Orchestra', however cool that title might sound. But don't let it fool you: apparently, the budget was really low, because there's no orchestra here, just the standard fusion-type lineup with keyboards and brass. The tune simply meanders along and does absolutely nothing - from time to time, there are interesting martial elements in the melody, but they never hold on for too long. Much better is 'RDNZL' (previously called simply 'Redunzel', although that hardly makes any more sense); it starts off as an innocent, well-meaning jazz tune, that is, in the same boring way, but later picks up steam and finally becomes a great showcase for Frank on his guitar as he exploits some weird and rather stinging guitar tones. His solo is nowhere near as stimulating as the one on the upcoming 'The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution', but it's still well worth hearing. And the coda to the composition, with its furious 'astral synthesizer' theme, is also well worth hearing.

Note, however, that even if you're a great diehard fan of Zappa's, you don't really need to buy this album if you can buy Läther, which contains all four of the tunes on here (see the review of Sleep Dirt below for details).



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

A patchy album filled with jazz improvisations and all that shit. There are some good moments, though.


Track listing: 1) Filthy Habits; 2) Flambay; 3) Spider Of Destiny; 4) Regyptian Strut; 5) Time Is Money; 6) Sleep Dirt; 7) The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution.

Although you probably know this already if you're a Zappa fan (and need know nothing about it if you're not), I'll go ahead and say it still. This album, along with the previously reviewed Studio Tan and a couple others that I still haven't got, was actually culled from a huge rock opera/symphony/oratorio/musical, whatever, called Läther and placed on four LP's. Naturally, the recording company just couldn't allow that much sprawl and denied Frank the right to publish it (it was finally released relatively recently on a 3-CD set). So he gave all the material to bootleggers, while the record people just cut it up and spread it over these records.

Which is more than a stupid move, actually: Sleep Dirt is a pointless collection of jazz instrumentals with no uniting theme, and sounds like one big, pleasant, but ultimately forgettable toss-off. The original LP was completely instrumental; the current CD version which is the one I possess has some annoying vocals (which I'll be complaining about in a minute), but, after all, they were meant to be there anyway, so this is a restoration, not a profanation. But in general, I have quite a problem with figuring out why you're gonna be needing this album, since there's nothing outstanding about it, except for a few blistering examples of Frank's guitar playing. Maybe in the context of other Läther songs it would have sounded better.

Basically, all the tunes can be divided in two parts: Frank and his bandmates engaging in blues/jazz improvisations, and Frank and his bandmates playing generic jazz melodies in order to accompany Thana Harris as she sings lyrics that don't seem to be understandable (they belong to some kind of unfinished musical, as far as I understand). This part, consisting of three songs ('Flambay', 'Spider Of Destiny' and 'Time Is Money') is all dismissable: Thana is a good vocalist, but they got hundreds of vocalists like that on Broadway, and personally, if I want a good musical, I'll go and listen to Cats where (a) the lyrics are clever and understandable, (b) the singerines actually sing the melodies, not just scream all the way through as if they were descended from Ella Fitzgerald which in any case they are not.

No, if there's anything good about the album, one has to seek it in the vocalless parts. I thought I'd probably hate them, seeing my particular disgust for Grand Wazoo, but turns out there are some really, really cool tunes on here. Well, I'm not a particular fan of 'Filthy Habits': at its essence seems to be hidden a more or less simple blues pattern, but the song is so drenched in high-tone feedback and noise-making that it spoils all my fun (can you really stand the beginning when it sounds like a dozen police cars going after you from all directions?), and 'Regyptian Strut' is structured almost like a classical symphony, with several parts and complex time signature changes and all that, but it's kinda pompous for me. Maybe I'm just not that much of a jazz fan. Say, what am I talking about? I'm definitely not a jazz fan, these trumpets do nothing for me. The basslines throughout are superb, though, maybe since they're played by the same James "Bird Legs" Youman who does a little acoustic duel with Frank on the short and sweet title track that's much more interesting to me - and Frank is the obvious winner of the duel, since right there at the end Youman stops and says 'my fingers got stuck'!!

The best track on the album, though, is by all means the thirteen-minute jam 'The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution'. It starts off a bit unnoticeable, as a stuttering acoustic shuffle with lots of overdubbed guitars (and Terry Bozzio makes everything to ensure us he's drunk at the drum kit, though he's probably not), and goes on like that, pleasantly doing nothing for five or six or seven minutes (I never bothered to count the actual time) while Frank demonstrates us all of his acoustic techniques, including an acoustic bass solo or two. Then, without any warning for the faint-hearted, he picks up the electric and launches into such a gut-spinning solo that I can't help wondering: was his guitar mastership really increasing with every new album or is it just because this one's new to me? Once again, he proves himself to be a fantazmo speed technician, and even though I'd probably dub this a 'jazz' solo, it would perfectly fit on any rock record. Turn it up loud and let yourself go, you'll enjoy this profoundly. Okay, maybe you'll enjoy this superficially (after all, who knows what the hell the whole record is supposed to mean?), but this is some of the best fusion I ever heard. Down with Jeff Beck and that crappy Wired album!

The only pity is that just a small bit of this record goes like this - the dratted Thana Harris tunes, the police sirens and the overblown trumpets drag it down significantly. Inessential for casual fans, but a must for all the freaks, just because of the title track and 'The Ocean'.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Zappa's high point as a sexual parodist, but the big problem is that he repeats himself too much.

Best song: FLAKES

Track listing: 1) I Have Been In You; 2) Flakes; 3) Broken Hearts Are For Assholes; 4) I'm So Cute; 5) Jones Crusher; 6) What Ever Happened To All The Fun In The World; 7) Rat Tomago; 8) Wait A Minute; 9) Bobby Brown Goes Down; 10) Rubber Shirt; 11) The Sheik Yerbouti Tango; 12) Baby Snakes; 13) Tryin' To Grow A Chin; 14) City Of Tiny Lites; 15) Dancin' Fool; 16) Jewish Princess; 17) Wild Love; 18) Yo' Mama.

Rumour has it that this album was actually a toss-off - Zappa's attempt at making a few bucks for his more experimental, least accessible sonic explorations. Well, might as well be the truth, because, if you compare this stuff to the tricky tunes of Läther, it'll certainly go down easier. Still, it's Zappa, not just anybody, which means that the songs are still twisted as hell, there are billions of weird and not so weird guitar jams, and, of course, the level of smuttiness will tear down all the limits of obscenity ever seen in a work of art. Songs like 'Bobby Brown Goes Down' are enough to make even the biggest Zappa freaks blush (although he would surpass himself in just a bit on Joe's Garage).

The title, of course, is another Zappa pun: essentially, if you think about it, it's just 'wriggle your ass' in pseudo-Arabic. Frank took this pun all too literal and further developed both sides of it: on one hand, we see him dressed as a Sheik on the album cover, on the other hand, the record is indeed as close to a dance-style album as could be. Both of the LP's (it's a double time) are stuffed with dance rhythms to the brink, rock'n'roll, doo-wop, disco, you name it. Of course, if you actually try to dance to these songs, you're bound to get stuck while 'shaking your booty', because almost all the time these numbers change their time signature before you can say jack knife. Which is not at all uncommon for Frank.

The biggest problem with the album is that it adds little to the things we already know about Frank: I mean, nowhere is it that you can find such a really shocking tune like 'The Torture Never Stops' on this album. But if you can cope with that, it's perfectly all right, because Frank has got enough cute little tricks for you to really enjoy the numbers. His huge backing band this time around does include Adrian Belew who plays some good guitar around, and who (I believe) also gets to sing lead vocals on the slightly weak 'City Of Tiny Lights', along with all of his favourite bandmates like Terry Bozio on drums, etc. Also, all the tracks seem to have been recorded live, with several overdubs done later, so just imagine the happy audiences!

Frankly speaking, I don't think that the album is indeed worthy of being a double one. For instance, I could be a perfectly happy man even without the final 'Yo' Mama': I mean, it's a good song, done in Zappa's famous freaky voice and all, with hilarious lyrics that I'm not even gonna quote here because it would take a long time, but what's with that nearly ten minute atonal jam in the middle? Doesn't convince me at all. Unfortunately, same goes for most of the instrumentals on here: somehow, Frank seems to have forgotten about his golden rule - 'one every next album play guitar better than on the previous one' - and things like 'The Sheik Yerbouti Tango', which isn't even a tango, or the rotten blues jam 'Rat Tomago', or the sleepy bass solo on 'Rubber Shirt', things like this aren't really worth any serious consideration. Not in my book.

thank God, at least the songs are good. Frank returns to doo-wop on the ominous album opener with the says-it-all title 'I Have Been In You', and his excourses into fast, gritty, hard-crunchin' rock are certainly above average, as is proved by the three-song 'mini-suite' 'Broken Hearts Are For Assholes/I'm So Cute/Jones Crusher'. Of course, it's easier to describe the complete structure of the Louvre Museum than a two-minute Zappa song, because every one of these three has at least five or six different melodies, either consequent or entwined together; but the effect is miraculous. 'I'm So Cute' is my favourite of the three, with some band member (don't know exactly who) rushing off the lyrics in a magnificent flurry, but the others are no slouches either.

Elsewhere, Frank proves himself a master of pop rock, whether it be on the shockin' 'Baby Snakes', with mock-backing vocals, or on the already mentioned 'Bobby Brown Goes Down', a song dedicated to a gay boy who's also into S&M. As usual, the lyrics... err... well. Would you suppose that the peaking of PC in American society had something to do with the demise of Frank? Just curious. Whatever. 'Bobby Brown' is a fine retroish pop song, anyway, and don't you mind the intentionally offensive lyrics. They're funny! Although, of course, I won't quote 'em here - there may be juniors visiting this site too, you know.

Other 'outstanding' tunes include the parodic disco send-up 'Dancin' Fool', and the absolutely hilarious 'Jewish Princess' where Frank says he wants one, 'with long phony nails and a hairdo that rinses' and a lot of less comfortably pronounceable elements. Err, what's that? An Arabian Sheik wanting a Jewish princess? What kind of a real pervertion is this?

Probably the most interesting thing in the album, though, is the brilliant Dylan parody in 'Flakes', near the beginning of the album. Is it Frank who does that? Well, whoever it is, kudos to him - the best Dylan parody (and the only one known to me) in existence, even if a wee bit late, because they parody his Blonde On Blonde wheezy style. But it's gonna send you under the table!

Some people actually regard it as Frank's best album - an exaggeration that I wouldn't really be supporting at all. It's one of his most easily accessible, of course (if you don't count stuff like Ruben & The Jets), but it's obviously a toss-off, like quite a bit of Frank's stuff. I like some of the humour, and I'm not against the other, but, as much as it is enjoyable and memorable, it doesn't produce such a terrific effect on you as my favourite, Freak Out!, does. Still, an essential buy, and if you just can't stand Frank's 'spaced out' experimentation or jazz music, one of the first.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

More or less what the title tells you - the problem is, this is Frank's orchestral favorites, not necessarily yours (and hardly mine).


Track listing: 1) Strictly Genteel; 2) Pedro's Dowry; 3) Naval Aviation In Art; 4) Duke Of Prunes; 5) Bogus Pomp.

No year was as prolific for Frank as 1979. Two single LPs, one double LP and one triple LP (Joe's Garage) - enough to make up for a small band's entire catalog. To be fair, one must admit that all of these records were heavily based on Läther material: tunes from Frank's infamous mega-projects crop up here and there (Sleep Dirt features reworked material, while the other three combine Läther outtakes with newer songs), and with all that huge bulk of work he'd synthesized in the past two years, he had no problems coming up with so many LPs in one year.

Nevertheless, even when all circumstances taken into account, it's obvious that such an overabundance of material couldn't be completely brilliant. Much of it is; but how can you make it without a large percent of filler if you come up with six or seven hours' worth of audio tape? Orchestral Favorites is, simply put, the most dispensable of Frank's releases of the year. Actually, it features the oldest material of the year: essentially, it's just a live recording of several tunes Frank tried with the so-called 'Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Orchestra' in 1975 at Royce Hall, Los Angeles. Frank does appear on the record (unlike some of his later avantgarde classical recordings), together with his trusty rhythm section - Terry Bozzio drums on it. But the main accent is still on the orchestra, not on Frank. And I must admit that - let's not conceal the facts - it's pretty boring.

To begin with, the record only consists of five tracks that clock in at a little over thirty minutes. Two represent alternate versions of already well-known classics: there's an instrumental take on 'Duke Of Prunes', and a lengthy take on one of Frank's favourite instrumentals, 'Bogus Pomp': this one occupies more than a third of the record, although it's not the longest version of 'Pomp' available. The other three tunes are new. But new or old, most of the tracks are dedicated to virtuosity show-offs and dissonance - not the kind of stuff I like hearing from Frank. I'll admit that Favorites is not exactly as off-putting as, say, The Yellow Shark, which is longer, even more cacophonous and offers no salvation whatsoever. But it's still only marginably better.

Marginably better, because at least there's the introductory track, 'Strictly Genteel'. Now this one might qualify as one of the best, if not the best, classical composition by good old Frank. Not at all dissonant except for selected short passages, it's rather powerful, exciting and even emotional at times - especially when Tommy Morgan plays a short, but sweet harmonica solo. The only special thing I'd like to note about the track in question is that the main theme is virtually the same as in 'Sofa' - and it has since cropped up in even more compositions. But it's a good, majestic and at the same time humorous theme, and there are enough variations on it throughout the track's seven minutes to keep it interesting. The harmonica is beautiful.

Likewise, I have virtually no protests against the short interlude 'Naval Aviation In Art?'. While it's not exactly a big deal (just a few violin passages with just a few touches of dissonance), it's short and I like the vibe it creates. And the version of 'Duke Of Prunes' on here is a highlight as well: while it's orchestral, it actually rocks, partly due to the fact that Frank plays a not uninteresting guitar solo near the middle. It's funny, because you don't often hear Frank emphasizing feedback - he usually prefers the flashy jazz style; here, all the solo is built on these vibrating, nagging sounds that almost seem to parody Jimi Hendrix. And this, in the context of an orchestral arrangement! Man, Frank does have extraordinarily weird ideas at times.

But unfortunately, that's only about one third of an album. 'Pedro's Dowry' is horrendous: eight minutes of prime dissonance, some of it sounding more like a half drunk orchestra during rehearsals. I don't get that stuff - actually, I hate that stuff, and I haven't yet heard any single person in the world who could successfully explain the essence of such compositions' suggested charm. Bah. As for 'Bogus Pomp' - yup, it does have some interesting moments (like that corny synth melody that steps in at around 6:10 - hilarious!), and it might be useful to sit through this version at least once to actually hear what wonders of technology can be done with the use of an orchestra and a psychotic mastermind; but thirteen and a half minutes for this stuff is way too long, and you'll be only glad when it's over.

This is stuff for the ultra-dedicated Zappa fan, the one who would sell his parents to... you know. Nevertheless, if you find it cheap, it might be worth owning if only for 'Strictly Genteel' which - take my word for it - is a beautiful tune. And I rarely go spilling such uncompromised praises on Frank's instrumental material. You know I usually prefer when the man keeps his trap open than shut. Heh, heh. Now I think it's just the most suitable moment to finally shut mine.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The Ultimate late Seventies' Zappa. If titles like 'Crew Slut' do not offend you to the core, this might be a good place to start...

Best song: JOE'S GARAGE

Track listing: 1) The Central Scrutinizer; 2) Joe's Garage; 3) Catholic Girls; 4) Crew Slut; 5) Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt; 6) On The Bus; 7) Why Does It Hurt When I Pee; 8) Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up; 9) Scrutinizer Postlude; 10) A Token Of My Extreme; 11) Stick It Out; 12) Sy Borg; 13) Dong Work For Yuda; 14) Keep It Greasey; 15) Outside Now; 16) He Used To Cut The Grass; 17) Packard Goose; 18) Watermelon In Easter Hay; 19) A Little Green Rosetta.

Yep. That's a nine. And I don't really like many of the songs on here. Shucks, there ain't even a single true Zappa classic here, no song one could pray upon. It's long. It's damn long. It's like, a three-LP rock opera, man! It has a bunch of real long songs, too. The plot? Sounds like something written by a teenage sexual maniac who's too shy to get into his girlfriend's pants and relieves himself on paper and tape instead. The album cover? Ugly beyond all recognition. The rating? A one? A two? Nope, a nine.

Frank Zappa is truthfully a mystical kind of guy. I do not know what it is in particular that attracts me so much about this record. You all probably know the background: this is an enormous rock opera (one of the biggest in existence, in fact, probably only beaten by the Kinks' Preservation) that initially came out as two separate records - Act I (a single LP) and Acts II & III (a double LP). Now it's being sold together in a 2-CD package, which is sorta neat. The plot? It's all about the supposed 'harm' made by music as supposed in a future totalitarian society. A guy named Joe plays in a garage band and gets punished for it, after which he commences a lengthy odyssey of sexual explorations, with a girlfriend who leaves him to become a 'crew slut', with another girlfriend who gives him an 'unpronounceable disease', with a robot in a German cyber-erotic bar, finally, with former record company executives when they put him behind bars for having 'plooked' the robot to death. Gee, what a terrific story. Thanks Heavens I didn't write it.

But the main point is - independent of how you are going to treat the story, whether you're really offended by the endless vulgarity and fucking references or not, one thing you cannot deny. This record sucks you in. This is the most concise plot that Zappa had ever drafted, so it's easy to follow the story; and the music, while far from primitive, is quite accessible. Yes, sometimes a song starts out as a song and then suddenly dissolves into a heap of musical dialog, opera-style; but, hell, this is an opera. An opera has its rules, and Frank follows the rules of operas! In that sense, by the way, Joe's Garage is more an opera in the strict sense of the word than, say, Tommy, or pretty much every other concept album that's been dubbed a 'rock opera'. And it's fun!

Well, at least the first two acts are all fun. Starting from the album opener, 'The Central Scrutinizer', where Frank plays the part of the 'scrutinizer' by whispering loudly through a megaphone, you know you're in for a good time. The title track is probably the best stuff on here - upbeat, punchy, fresh, nostalgic (it all deals with Joe and memories of his garage band) and, of course, funny. The lyrics, in fact, are the best on record, as they tell a sincere and moving story of your typical average teenage band and their hopes and disillusions. After this, though, the songs get smuttier and smuttier - 'Catholic Girls' and 'Crew Slut' are horrendously misogynic songs, and all of the second act is about fucking, nothing more. Again, though, it's funny. Parts of this are just as entertaining as the best stuff on Sheik Yerbouti, and better. And diverse: 'Catholic Girls' is jazzy, 'Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt' starts out as a cool disco tune, 'Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?' (pretty straightforward title, eh?) is a hard rock, riffy tune, 'Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up' is reggae, and the tunes in the second act have so many hooks and funny moments that I'm just shutting up, I wouldn't know where to start. It'd take me two hours to describe all the 'pretty moments'. Suffice it to say that, if not for the horrendously vulgar lyrics, this would have been an acknowledged masterpiece. As it is, it's hard to imagine a song where Joe constantly addresses a robot with the words 'fuck me, you ugly son of a bitch' over and over again getting any radio play. (By the way, the part of Joe is played by Ike Willis, and he does his job superbly.) And songs like 'Keep It Greasey' even get on my nerves, although I'll shut my trap and not whine about how Frank has gone too far this time... there's no such thing as too far for Frank Zappa. Oh well. It's still fun.

Act III is rather strange, though. It has practically no plot development, if you don't count the rather abstract 'bringing the story to an end' with Joe becoming a plain and simple man and embracing the ban on music just as fine as everybody else. But mainly, it's just instrumental: four eight- or ten-minute compositions with pretty few lyrics and a lot of guitar and keyboard noodle-noodle-noodlings. Sometimes, when I'm in the mood, I actually enjoy it; the guitar parts in 'Watermelon In Easter Hay' can be pretty cool and soothing and tender, and some of the solos on the other tracks are decent. But none are spectacular: they just go around with jazz and blues jams that seem rather pointless and don't even display Frank's or the band's technical skills at their best. It really does not tie in with the first two acts at all, and Frank has done many better instrumental 'jammy' compositions, both before and since. Either way, you have to take it or not. Me, I prefer to treat this third act more or less like the 'Apple Jam' supplement to George Harrison's All Things Must Pass: I just think of this third record as a 'bonus disc' that's given to the listener for free after he's paid for the two others. If you feel like listening to it, do so. If you don't, don't, but anyway, it just will not affect the rating. I rate the record based primarily on the first two acts, which get a nine with one point subtracted for the constant smuttiness that really starts to bug me somewhere near the end. And the third act... well, 'A Little Green Rosetta' is good as the Gran Finale, otherwise, it's okay.

Buy this record anyway! It will work excellently as a test of your liberality - you say you uphold freedom of speech? Wait until you hear 'Stick It Out'! If you find out you like it or, at least, tolerate it, your liberation is complete, and you may count yourself an Approved Saviour of Democracy and Human Rights in this world. If you find out you can't stand it, well, at least have the courage to admit that it's a problem of your personal taste. And anyway, just concentrate on the music. It's so groovy. Boy, I think I'll go put it on now. Again.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

A very average live recording - the band seems sorta 'self-indulgent' to me, much as I dislike the word.


Track listing: 1) Fine Girl; 2) Easy Meat; 3) For The Young Sophisticate; 4) Love Of My Life; 5) I Ain't Got No Heart; 6) Panty Rap; 7) Tell Me You Love Me; 8) Now You See It - Now You Don't; 9) Dance Contest; 10) The Blue Light; 11) Tinsel Town Rebellion; 12) Pick Me I'm Clean; 13) Bamboozled By Love; 14) Brown Shoes Don't Make It; 15) Peaches III.

Not impressed. 'Tain't no big deal. 'Tain't no shit, either, but sure ain't no big deal. There have been better live recordgins made by Frank, both before and after this one. Yeah, I know I wasn't a big fan of Bongo Fury, for instance, but that album at least had some point about it - a whiff of conceptuality, one might say. Here, the 'whiff of conceptuality' seems to be pretty much limited to Frank's urgent request for the ladies to throw more underwear on the stage ('Panty Rap' - plain 'orrible! Gee, Frank, I deem Joe's Garage wasn't really enough for you - why did you have to carry it on to the public?) Most of the performances are solid, but most of them are also surprisingly bleak and un-welcoming, it almost seems as if Frank was recording this one to fulfill some contract than to make an artistic statement. Of course, I understand that there's only so many artistic statements a person can carry out at any given period of time, and Frank had already overfilled his limit, but why release crap if there's a possibility not to release anything at all?

This time, Frank has assembled a real big backing band - almost an orchestra, with tons of guitarists and keyboard players and all kinds of 'crew sluts' (heh heh), with one major difference: there is no brass section, probably for the first time in history. Maybe he was going 'modernistic'. So the place of horns is entirely taken up by synths, played by Tommy Mars and other gentlemen. It's not as bad as might seem, and if you're not a fanatic of Frank's jazz sound, you might even welcome such a decision; however, it doesn't do that much use to Zappa's sound, either. The band also includes future guitar god Steve Vai - as far as I understand, for the first time, but definitely not a case of first best.

They do play some oldies here - going as far back as Frank's doo-wop period, doing even such rusty standards as 'I Ain't Got No Heart' and 'Love Of My Life' (both are okay). The half-hearted rendition of 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It' convinces me that the song really needs the original Mothers to get the message home, and the revised version of 'Peaches En Regalia' (here called 'Peaches III', as it's the third time this appeared on record) is tolerable, but not much more. The only real highlight of these selections, and arguably the best performance on record, is a fully charged, rip-roaring take on 'Tell Me You Love Me', with some first-rate metallic guitar and a tasty tinkling piano in the background.

The rest of the material is more or less new, and hardly any big surprises or big successes here, either. The unbearably long, sleep-lulling 'Easy Meat' sounds like a second-rate Joe's Garage outtake (stupid lyrics, stupid melody, funny overall effect) with a pointless synth jam stuck right in the middle, and, in fact, it often seems that Frank was using these shows more like a polygon for testing the skills of his new band, as short/medium/long guitar/keyboards jams abound everywhere. I do not know who actually solos on what, but whoever they are, the guitar solos here mostly sound totally crappy, a far cry from Frank's best instrumental passages. One of the tracks is simply a five minute guitar solo ('Now You See It - Now You Don't'), and it's just five minutes of spoilt tape for me.

The songs themselves are hardly any better. 'The Blue Light' is particularly murky: it's a kind of lightweight jazz pastiche with Frank ad libbing some nauseating dissonant vocals, a trick he would later use to create some of the more crappy tracks on The Man From Utopia ('The Dangerous Kitchen'! Remember that? No? Good for you!), and it's immediately followed by the title track which has even more of that ugly 'scat', even if it starts out as a rather raunchy rocker. So, essentially, the good news is a pair of good tunes that seem to have gotten there almost by accident. 'Pick Me I'm Clean' is overlong (it has a guitar solo, for Chrissake!), but it's funny and reminds me of 'Yo' Mama' from Sheik Yerbouti, both lyrically and melodically. And 'Bamboozled By Love' is a surprisingly tight, scary and fierce blues number which is, indeed, one of the few refreshing moments on the record when the guys really pick their heads up and start to make music, not just show off.

Oh! Did I mention yet that the record opens with a studio recording? Yes yes! That's right! ('You're an asshole', as Frank would add in Sheik Yerbouti). 'Fine Girl' is stuck right there in the beginning 'so that conservative radio stations can play something on the air', Frank says. Well, maybe they did, and maybe they didn't, but, truth is, it's not a highlight: essentially, it's just very derivative from the kind of Frank's late Seventies' stuff. It was actually time to move on - you know? Move on! Progress! Make 'em up something NEEEW! Tinseltown Rebellion is thus a trying-to-get-rejuvenated new-Eighties-look Frank Zappa suddenly finding himself hopelessly stuck in the Seventies. Fortunately, with a little push he pulled himself out of the slump... with, quite possibly, the best studio album he was ever able to come up with. Seriously.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Guitar manual No. 1 from good old Frankie here. (And No. 2, and No. 3, etc..)

Best song: no songs here

Track listing: 1) Five-Five-Five; 2) Hog Heaven; 3) Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar; 4) While You Were Out; 5) Treacherous Cretins; 6) Heavy Duty Judy; 7) Soup 'N' Old Clothes; 8) Variations On The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression; 9) Gee, I Like Your Pants; 10) Canarsie; 11) Ship Ahoy; 12) The Deathless Horsie; 13) Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar Some More; 14) Pink Napkins; 15) Beat It With Your Fist; 16) Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar; 17) Pinocchio's Furniture; 18) Why Johnny Can't Read; 19) Stucco Homes; 20) Canard Du Jour.

Selective reviewing has its flaws - I actually picked up this mega-monster 3-CD set (luvvingly crammed by the Russian pirates onto 2 CDs, and yes, all you crazy Zappaphiles out there, it is the classic 3-CD edition I'm talking about) only after purchasing its supposedly - but not obviously - inferior sequel, Guitar. Therefore, if you want me blurbing on the ethical and moral aspects of releasing a 100-minute collection of guitar solos with nothing else to back 'em up, go read my Guitar review and keep in mind my insane and inane chronology.

Here, let me just state a few related facts, half-facts, opinions and lameass assumptions. First of all, this wasn't a triple record originally, but rather three separate LPs, released with small chronological intervals between them (Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar Some More, and Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar - can we say 'intentional mockery of imaginative album titles'?). However, since their original releases it has become a rather stable tradition to view them all together in one package, and unless we're talking old vinyl cathegories here, you'll hardly get a chance to find any of the three albums separately. Not that it's a tragedy, of course, although some might find it hard to digest three records of guitar solos at once... personally, I have only been able to sit through everything in a row only once.

Still, these are great guitar solos, so why make a jerk out of myself and complain? For the most part, all of the selections are taken from Frank's 1979-80 live shows, with a superb backing band (Ike Willis and Steve Vai are regularly featured on rhythm guitar; unfortunately, Terry Bozzio only drums on a couple of tracks, but his replacement, Vinnie Colaiuta is competent as well) and plenty of energy and inspiration to go by. One thing to notice is that all of these solos actually sound different from the way Frank used to solo on his classic album tracks, and actually, that's quite an important thing to remember: Shut Up is not just a guy showing off, to a large extent, it's an experimental record. Here, Zappa engages in some complex, bizarre guitar wizardry that's not all that emotionally resonant but still manages to draw you in if you give yourself in to the groove.

And dammit, I'm pretty ready to give myself in to the groove. It's not too diverse - Frank sticks to the same style over and over again, but from time to time he really and truly blazes, like no other guitar player I've heard. It's not that I'd want to be appreciating this stuff over and over again, but heck, this is at least light years ahead from the ugly dissonance of King Crimson's THRaKaTTaK. Here is, then, a complete procedure according to which one should evaluate these discs:

a) All of the tracks are listenable. These are just slightly entangled, but pretty normal, jazz-rock/fusion (isn't that the same thing, in the long run?) jams, with next to no dissonance and next to no special gimmicks that make your eardrums turn to ashes; this actually is a serious difference from Guitar, where Frank expanded on his array of guitar tones and kept using certain 'effects' to ambiguous effect.

b) All of the tracks are excellently played. Long guitar solos - let's face it - are bad when played by incompetent players, useless when played by decent players, and intriguing when played by brilliant players, like Mr Zappa. Even if you hate the album on the gut level, you'll have to admit that the range of tones, impressive chord sequences and key changes that Mr Eternal Goatee employs is fairly good.

c) This is, after all, a great atmospheric listen. Good background music, dammit. And it RAWKS!

Well, not all of it rawks, of course. But some of the tracks that don't rawk are pretty cool anyway. Like the final track on the record - the Jean-Luc Ponty duet 'Canard Du Jour', which is rather overlong, but features a very exciting duel between Ponty's violin and Frank's, er, bouzouki. Cool Eastern vibe crosslinked with the cream of avantgarde experimentation. I don't usually like weirdness for the sake of weirdness, but this one has a very strange unexplainable vibe that gets under my skin - and gets hypnotic and almost ominous with time.

As for the regular tracks, they're all right. My favourite ones are probably those that rock the hardest - like the hilarious 'Variations On The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression', or 'Heavy Duty Judy', or the rip-roaring 'Beat It With Your Fist', but if you listen hard, you'll find that some of the more laid-back tunes have their dose of emotional resonance as well, particularly the title track and 'Stucco Homes'. At times, Frank gets funkier ('Ship Ahoy'), and at times, the soloing does get overboard (overlong tracks like 'Soup' Old Clothes' should, well, as primitive as it sounds, they should be shorter), but normally, he just stays within one single paradigm, but that's alright by me.

But I gotta warn you - Zappa's no Clapton. Although you probably knew that already.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

An epoch-defining record indeed. Is this Zappa's 'White Album'? Probably...

Best song: no, no, nothing stands out here - by Zappa's standards, they're all great.

Track listing: 1) Teen-age Wind; 2) Harder Than Your Husband; 3) Doreen; 4) Goblin Girl; 5) Theme From The 3rd Movement Of Sinister Footwear; 6) Society Pages; 7) I'm A Beautiful Guy; 8) Beauty Knows No Pain; 9) Charlie's Enormous Mouth; 10) Any Downers?; 11) Conehead; 12) You Are What You Is; 13) Mudd Club; 14) The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing; 15) Dumb All Over; 16) Heavenly Bank Account; 17) Suicide Chump; 18) Jumbo Go Away; 19) If Only She Woulda; 20) Drafted Again.

Now this is what you have to get now, so run ahead to your nearest store before even finishing reading this review. This is as essential an album for post-Mothers' era Zappa as We're Only In It was for that particular one, only better. Yeah, you heard right - I insist that You Are What You Is is better than that fluke attack on poor hippies. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Money; however, the fact of its emormous social importance has somehow overshadowed its musical values. You Are was recorded in an epoch when acute social statements from such old farts as Frank weren't taken so seriously any longer - and that's good, because you don't need to overcome any media-induced bias against 'classic albums' in order to grab this superb piece of music and enjoy it every bit as much, maybe even better, than Money or, in fact, any other Zappa records.

Why do I love this album so much? Well, for starters, these superbly crafted twenty songs can almost be seen as a Zappanthology, showcasing him and his terrific backing band (this time, with Steve Vai as a more or less permanent member) at everything he does best: untrivial, but catchy melodies, witty social critique, fascinating, hilarious lyrics (he even rarely goes overboard with the usual smuttiness here), strong, intriguing riffs and energetic solos, groovy, confusing special effects and, well, everything you expect to see on a good Zappa record. Well, it doesn't have one thing: lengthy instrumental passages. And that's good for me, because, however much I respect and enjoy the sound of the man's guitar, I'm just not really moved by all his endless jazzy, half-lethargic pieces the likes of which can be found on Läther material and elsewhere. So this sure beats the shit out of any Sheik Yerbouti, not to mention Sleep Dirt!

I must warn you, though: if this happens to be your first Zappa purchase, there's no absolute guarantee you'll fall in love with it. Quite a bit of music here is tough, really tough to take. The whole album is very loud (Wilson & Alroy call it Frank's 'hard rock album', though it's debatable), the songs usually run into each other with minimal or no breaks, and, indeed, I did find it a bit hard to sit through all twenty compositions without a break. Once you got used to the cacophony, though, you'll be rewarded. You Are What You Is may not be Frank's 'hard rock album', but it is definitely his White Album - in the sense that he's parodying almost every musical style and musical mood in existence: hard rock, metal, punk, jazz, soulful balladeering, blues, and doo-wop again (as if doo-wop was relevant in 1981). Besides that, the lyrics are some of his best ever - in fact, I don't think I've witnessed a better set of lyrics since Money (again). Whether spilling his venom over stupid teenage fashions ('Teenage Wind'), military ideology ('Drafted Again'), or organized religion ('Dumb All Over'), he's always, er, on the money.

If anything, the record does indeed hearken back to the old days - when Frank would just compose short (or not so short) freaky songs with amusing lyrics and sing 'em with the Mothers, instead of engaging in his instrumental stuff. Quite a bit of songs, in fact, remind me of those early numbers. Take the excellent blues parody 'Suicidal Chump', for instance: doesn't it remind you of 'Trouble Every Day'? And what about all the 'aiiieee-aiiiieee-aiieee' screams in 'Drafted Again', a song that narrates of girls' protests against being put to the gun? ('Leave my nose alone please!') Don't they remind you of that early stuff? They do, only, once again, they're mostly better - a definite improvement over the Mothers' sloppy sound. The good side of modernized production values.

Oh, my, it's really impossible to name all the good stuff on here - out of the twenty songs, maybe just one or two aren't attractive enough for me. Well, I guess that some of the songs that seem to be outtakes from conceptual albums, like the mini-suite about 'Charlie', can be placed in the 'filler' category, though not all of them. Actually, if you follow this 'Charlie' suite with a lyrics sheet, you won't mind anything: the way Zappa ridicules beauty fashions in 'Beauty Knows No Pains' and, I guess, drug addictions in 'Charlie's Enormous Mouth', is pure genius. So let's not even talk of the filler. Instead, I'll just name a few highlights here - let me know if I've forgotten anything!

So, here are some of my favourites. There's 'Goblin Girl', a funny reggae tune with meaningful lyrics like 'Hobnoblin/Wit da Goblin' that'll really get you in a grip with its silly beat. But don't play it if you've got sensitive friends - one of its main gimmicks is that somebody imitates a vomiting sound every few seconds (not that strange, though, seeing as we don't really know the ways of the Goblins). There's 'Doreen', a blistering parody on the ideal power pop song; it begins like an energetic, soulful power ballad, but then ridicules the concept by transforming itself into a bunch of musical chaos that goes on for three minutes. Not the psycho chaos, though, no: it's just all the band playing as loudly and as 'competitingly' at the same time, with multiple overdubbed vocals, guitar solos, crunchy riffs and everything. Play this loud to your neighbours and watch them go crazy. There's the incredibly dumb title track, all built on the irregularities of the verb 'to be', although its main message seems to be social again. There's the shattering three-song 'anti-religion' suite, especially good is the opening 'The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing': as a climax, it contains the Zappa's-alternative-to-religion lines that seem to sum up all of my life philosophy ('Do what you wanna/Do what you will/Just don't mess up/Your neighbour's thrill'). There's the multi-part 'Jumbo Go Away', a song that's doo-wop, jazz and heavy metal at the same time, if you can believe that. There's... there's more, I don't have the forces nor the time nor the will to name everything. I'll just say, briefly, that if you want the complete Frank Zappa in one package, this is your best deal. This album is likely to convert a stone. Yeah, I realize that it's not particularly innovating - all of this stuff has been done before. But it seems to me that one fine day Frank listened to all his albums in a row, saw through all the weak points and redid his past and present so as to repeat all the good stuff and leave all the bad stuff behind. In which he succeeded.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A bit more social critique, this time drenched in too many instrumentals and so-so stuff.


Track listing: 1) No Not Now; 2) Valley Girl; 3) I Come From Nowhere; 4) Drowning Witch; 5) Envelopes; 6) Teen-Age Prostitute.

It would be rather banal to call this a 'marking-time' album - Frank has simply had too many records out for people to divide them into 'so-so' and 'groundbreaking'. This particular one is rather short (clocks in at about half an hour) and does not present us with any new, unexpected sides of Mr Frank. A large percent of this record was probably recorded live, judging by the audience applause, but that's not really very interesting. What is interesting is Frank's collaboration with his own daughter, Moon Zappa, on the moderate hit 'Valley Girl', a song that can probably be as much appalling as it is attractive. Essentially, it's just a simple, unsophisticated rocker with some cool guitar playing thrown in, but the 'highlight' is, of course, Moon's spoken monologue where she goes out to impersonate, you know, your average middle-class bubble-gum-chewin' American girl perhaps? Man, I hate these intonations, but if it's fake, well, then I must say she pulls it off real well; I can hardly imagine a more 'disgusting' portrait of gray people banality. 'Gag me with a speeeewwn...' All you teenage American girls who think of nothing but everyday 'problems' should consider watching yourself in this mirror and see how disgusting it is.

Overall, though, the album is not very socially biting: Frank goes more for a simple comic effect, like on the excruciatingly long title track that deals about a poor little witch's fate after she supposedly bathed in the radiated ocean and grown fifteen feet tall... er, never mind. The lyrics are indeed very funny; the problem is, they constitute just a short rapped part of a lengthy, twelve-minute experimental jam that I don't really enjoy at all. There are lots of guitar solos and various 'cool' parts, but most of them are deadly dull, far from his best guitar workouts. Frank seems to have just discovered a few funny guitar tones and effects and seems more intent on utilizing these effects than producing energized music. In other words - nothing to get particularly excited about. In fact, somewhere around the last minute this jam is supposed to run into a shorter instrumental called 'Envelopes', but I never even notice it - it just seems like one more disjointed, silly instrumental part of the whole composition.

So I really prefer to get entertained by the specific songs on here. Besides 'Valley Girl', which is excellent, except that I have to be in the proper mood to enjoy it, there's one really naggin' tune called 'I Come From Nowhere', sung by Roy Estrada in an ultra-stoned tone that manages to suck all the possible charms away from it. Then again, dat's da point, isn't it? If you don't dig Roy Estrada on here, there's no way you will enjoy Ike Willis on Thing-Fish. But then again, there are two other really, really good numbers: the album opener 'No Not Now' and the album closer 'Teen-Age Prostitute'. The first one is a lengthy, yet thoroughly engaging chant that incorporates a bit of everything, from jazz to surf - notice how Frank & Co. coo the 'Hawaiian - Hawaiian - Lunch' line, just like the Beach Boys in 'Hawaii'? I wonder if I'm the only one who noticed... I really think that the way they sing their falsetto 'no not now' and then Frank steps in with his deep baritone 'maybe later' is really, really groovy, maybe the most memorable moment on the whole record. Complaints have been voiced about whether the song's six-minute length is really justified. The Court is still in session over that one.

The major prize, though, goes to 'Teen-Age Prostitute', a song that brilliantly combines more witty (or not so) social observations with classical and heavy metal. No pun intended - that's how it is! The song seems to be built on a monstruous hard riff that resembles some of the riffs utilized by King Crimson at the time, but most of the sung sections are sung by some female singer (whose name I don't remember) in an operatic style, and the effect is hilarious. Don't know who'd love such a strange piece of music but me the wretched eclecticist, though.

I s'pose you might ask why the hell am I giving the record a 7, if there's but three or four good songs on the whole album. Well, I really don't know - I did consider giving it a 6, but then I felt it would really be too little. I mean, there's nothing really offensive here - he isn't flamboyantly defying us as on Grand Wazoo or immersing us in his deep labyrinths of conscience, like on Apostrophe'. Instead, there's just one boring jam, plus a couple tracks that might seem good today and bad tomorrow, but since I'm an optimist, I vote for 'good today'. It is a very very weak overall ten, but who says I'm to give out Herculean tens all the time? These ratings are supposed to be fluctuating - like the Florida recounts!

Anyway, this should never be your first buy, but not your last, either. And, after all, 'No Not Now' and 'Teen-Age Prostitute' really should rank as some of his best ever. And man, that Moon Zappa can really pull off a mean undertone. Whatever. Oh, and by the way, glancing at the father-and-daughter photos inside the cover - am I the only one to notice the striking resemblance between the two? I mean, you could paint a moustache and a goatee on Moon's face and you'd have two Franks staring at ya! Now that's what I call "gene power".



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Frank is clearly not too sure 'bout what he's doing here, so only about half of this is fun.


Track listing: 1) Cocaine Decisions; 2) Sex; 3) Tink Walks Amok; 4) The Radio Is Broken; 5) We Are Not Alone; 6) The Dangerous Kitchen; 7) The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou; 8) Stick Together; 9) The Jazz Discharge Party Hats; 10) Luigi & The Wise Guys; 11) Moggio.

By the early Eighties, want it or not, Frank was becoming an increasingly marginal figure - he'd exhausted himself with his last super-blast on You Are What You Is, and from what I've heard and from what I'm hearing on his Eighties albums, they're all pretty much hit and miss. He was clearly spent, although I'm not using this in that dismissing denigrating sense: no, his output from now on isn't really bad, it's just that it's pretty ordinary. He didn't sell out, of course - he simply couldn't allow himself to sell out, what with his image and self-conscience and all, and he didn't 'progress' in that accepted sense of the word which, in the Eighties, meant moving on to drum machines and synths and computer programming. On the other hand, if we consider Frank's usual proliferousness, it was simply impossible for him to try to stay in his old pants and do something new at the same time. That's why about half of this album sounds like it comes from Sheik Yerbouti, and the other half sounds like it comes from your toilet. There are no particular high points on this album, and as far as I know, even diehard fans often dismiss it as a really low point. Judging from my non-freak position, I wouldn't agree: a couple of songs here should still rank among his best material, and while about half of the album is indeed crappy, the other half more than makes up for it. Nevertheless, the general impression is... yeah, Frank did right to move more into the classical direction in the next few years.

The worst part about this album is that much too often, it seems that Frank is just having trouble finding enough stuff to stuff it. Therefore, three of the songs (and they make up for fifteen minutes of the record) are presented as incoherent ramblings/rappings by Frank and/or his bandmates, presented over bits and snatches of sloppy, unlistenable muzak. If, by some unhappy chance, this album happens to be your first Frank purchase (although I couldn't really see how this could happen), you might get the wrong impression that this is the garbage he clogs his records with - that's why he has so many of 'em! Wrong. This time, they really suck suck suck: he'd done much better with these 'genres' in the earlier days.

'The Radio Is Broken', dealing with some space fantasies of an astronaut who can't get in touch with the Earth, drags until I really get the urge to press the 'skip' button: I could produce a better space-fic in two minutes. 'The Dangerous Kitchen' gets on my nerves, too, with Frank turning in these dreadful off-key lines, and the worst offender is 'The Jazz Discharge Party Hats' (recorded live, so it seems, to the probable utter disgust of the listeners). That one is currently a worthy contender for 'Crappiest Piece Of Idiotic Muzak' Frank has ever put out: a messy, dissonant jazz jam with Frank reciting a story about panties fetishism. The nastiest point is that it isn't even funny. It isn't particularly offensive, either - just gross. Gross and stupid. And melodyless. And pointless. And it sucks. Add to this the 'bonus' track newly added to the CD, the better-late-than-never doo-wop parody 'Luigi & The Wise Guys' (its main theme is the endless repetition of the line 'you're a dork a double dork'), and you got yourself a pretty nasty stinker. Don't get me wrong: I can tolerate Frank when he's consistently emphasizing 'weirdness' and even 'ugliness', as long as the latter's fun enough, but when he breaks the rules of basic listenability, that's far more than I can take.

Luckily, there's still enough quality material here to make up for the embarrassments. The crisp, metallic rockers are first-rate - 'Cocaine Decisions' opens the album with a blast ('Chop a line now...'), a fine, Steve Vai-emphasized song in the old Overnite Sensation style, and 'Sex' has the best (yeah, right! and the only) riff on the whole album. It may be a simple blues-rocker, but it's crunchy and funny, and I like how the band howls out 'SEX!' after each line. I don't pay much attention to the lyrics, of course - but then again, who can be shocked by anything after Joe's Garage? And Frank's rearrangement and reinterpretation of 'Mary Lou', here retitled as 'Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou' is purely hilarious - I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. To tell you the truth, there's no better thing than to hear a good ol' chunk o' rockabilly performed by Frank Zappa: you get all the fun you had in the Fifties plus much, so much more...

And then there's a bunch of interesting, inspiring and mercifully short instrumentals (the upbeat, energy-filled, crisp 'We Are Not Alone' with a Jeff Beckish-style fusion arrangement is my favourite, but both 'Tink Walks Amok' and the closing 'Moggio' with its frightening scowl at the beginning and in the end qualify too). And how could I forget 'Stick Together'? The melody isn't that entertaining, but at least it's a short bit of entertaining, intelligent social critique - here, Frank ridicules the labor movement and the phoney labor unions. Good guy.

All in all, the best material here makes up for an enjoyable lengthy EP and a so-so short LP. Obviously, it's all throwaway material, but don't disregard throwaway material, ladies and gentlemen. Some people consider all of Paul McCartney's solo career as one big throwaway, which only proves that throwaways can be as magnificent as serious artistic statements. Big question, though: why do the directions on the front cover point to different Italian cities?



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

More live stuff from the most overreleased performer in history. Problem is, the material's good.

Best song: TITTIES 'N' BEER

Track listing: 1) Intro Rap; 2) Baby Snakes; 3) Titties 'N' Beer; 4) The Black Page #2; 5) Jones Crusher; 6) Disco Boy; 7) Dinah Moe Humm; 8) Punky's Whips.

A soundtrack that came somewhat late - the movie came out sometime in between 1978 and 1979. The movie is as much a cult attribute for Zappa fans as the earlier Uncle Meat one, but I ain't never seen it and can't really relate how the performances on this album relate to various episodes, so I'll just have to concentrate on the musical side, okay? The movie was long, but the album is almost ridiculously short - about half an hour in all, with just six live cuts, preceded by a hilarious 'intro rap' and a trusty studio version of 'Baby Snakes' itself.

The band here is Frank's regular late Seventies combo, the one that included Adrian Belew on guitars, and, as usual, they do their stuff pretty well; Adrian's playing style is not yet clearly defined by that point (he'd go and join the rejuvenated King Crimson in two years' time), but his guitar parts are still very well done. And the bass player seems to be obsessed with 'Sunshine Of Your Love' - he manages to insert the main riff of the tune into almost every song on here (wink, wink: more little pointless stupid catches from old Frank). Also, most of these tunes are quite easy to assimilate - for some reason, Frank prefers to concentrate on the Sheik Yerbouti side of his personality, playing one catchy, dirty, smutty tune after another. Only once he deviates from the process, delivering a short, tolerable instrumental: 'The Black Page #2', a pretty, but totally inessential jazzy ditty in the trademark Zappa style, dominated by Ed Mann's vibes work. However, in this context it only seems to confuse matters - I'd expect it to show up on albums like Make A Jazz Noise Here or something like that.

So you get some of Frank's raunchiest ever - personally, I love the version of his Läther classic 'Titties 'N' Beer', here presented as a duet between Terry Bozzio (the devil who ate the titties) and Frank (the poor guy who the devil Terry Bozzio stole the titties from). It's fast, exciting and funny, and even when the music dies down, leaving the devil and the poor soul engaging in word combat, you never actually notice that they'd stopped singing a long time ago and are just making fun of the audience: 'I'll prove to you that I'm bad enough to go to Hell...' - 'Yeah..' -.'Because I have been through it!' - 'Yeah!' - 'I have seen it!' - 'Yeah!' - 'It has happened to me!' - 'Yeah!' - 'Remember... I was signed with Warner Brothers for eight fuckin' years!' - 'Tell me about it...! Now you're talkin' in my language...' Heh, heh. Poor Warner Brothers.

'Jones Crusher' off Sheik Yerbouti and 'Disco Boy' are done more or less faithfully, but 'Dinah Moe Humm' sets up a pretext for Frank acting silly and putting on a clownish show for the audience - in the long run, he simply snatches a guy from the audience and makes him dance and lip-synch to the song that he's singing, in the grand tradition of 'Be-Bop Tango' from Roxy. Of course, poor Brian (or whatever is his name) doesn't realize how silly he looks in this situation, so he just hops along to the 'Frank Zappa Performer-like Contest'. I never liked that stuff while listening to Roxy and I certainly don't like it here; whether Frank was right or wrong in making fun of the audiences that way, is up to you to decide - my personal ethics never revolts against such things, but my senses that are responsible for pleasure recepture say nothing to me. The performance itself is exciting - the band locks up into the disco groove so tight that it never properly knows when to shut down, but I don't mind. Possibly the best live version of the song you'll ever find, although I somehow miss the sinister tone of the studio recording (plus, the lyrics have never fascinated me that much, but you already know that if you still remember my Over-Nite Sensation review. I know I don't - it's hard enough to keep up with the sheer number of these records).

Finally, the album closes with an ultra-long performance of yet another Läther classic - 'Punky's Whips', and again, the main stars are Terry Bozzio (who's said to fall in love with Punky's, err, 'rictus'), and Frank himself, who steadily directs the band into a jam and plays a typical vicious solo. Don't expect me to compliment it much, though; I love it, but I'm just a bit too tired of having to praise the man's guitar playing abilities. I think I'll at least save my praises until we get around to reviewing Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar...

A good live album, anyway. At least I'd take it any day of the year miles ahead of Bongo Fury and Captain Beefheart's incoherent hoarse ramblings. Yeah, the recordings don't differ that much from the studio ones, but they do differ in some ways, and, even if it's short, the album is a good retrospective for the 'funny smutty' side of Frank. Totally works for me, the whiny little chap who still refuses to see the genius of Lumpy Gravy. But don't beat me up! Hey, I liked Waka/Jawaka! I'm not hopeless! I may yet see the light that legions of devoted Frank Zappa fans are reveling in!

On second thought, maybe it would be better to grope around in the dark... just a little bit more time...



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Modern classical. Some of it is almost ambient, in fact - which, in the long run, saves the record.


Track listing: 1) The Perfect Stranger; 2) Naval Aviation In Art?; 3) The Girl In The Magnesium Dress; 4) Dupree's Paradise; 5) Love Story; 6) Outside Now Again; 7) Jonestown.

The album sleeve can be somewhat deceptive in this case. The funniest and most memorable thing about it is the stupid little dog in sunglasses - Frank liked the animal so much he subsequently put it on the covers of two other 1984 albums, Them Or Us and Francesco Zappa. And Boulez, the famous modern classical composer Pierre Boulez who was already secretly, and not so secretly, worshipped by Frank for a long time, does conduct the Ensemble Contemporain - but only on one half of the record. The other half is Zappa practising his skills on the Synclavier - a super-modern type of synthesizer, at least, at the time. As far as I understand, it was perfectly suited to creating classical music and transforming yourself into a one-man orchestra, or at least a string quartet or something. Zappa would spend the next two or three years practising the instrument, and it was a perfect match for him, too: I suppose that's one of the reasons for which he'd very rarely record something with a real band since then.

I have discussed Frank's regular 'relations' with avantgarde classical below, in my review of The Yellow Shark which I bought before this album. Thus, I won't spend a lot of time raving about how I hate, or how I just don't understand, the 'orchestral noises'. Yes, that's true: neither the twelve-minute title track, nor the eight-minute 'Dupree's Paradise' do anything for me. At times, the orchestra comes close to establishing a cool, pleasant, relaxing atmosphere, but each time you're ready to 'fall for the groove' and comfortably settle down, some nasty dissonant violin line or a stupid change in tempo completely ruins your pleasure. Whatever. I still think avantgarde classical is a perversion - that's not to say I deny perversion a right to exist. Fortunately, I'm normal, and just about the only orchestral performance I can easily tolerate on the record is a newer version of 'Naval Aviation In Art?': short, only slightly dissonant, and continuous - three minutes of quiet, yet slightly pulse-pulse-pulsating classical stuff that don't have any ugly 'ruptures' in the middle to break your cool.

The three Synclavier compositions, however, are an entirely different story (I say 'three', because I don't count the one-minute interlude 'Love Story' which is way too short and slight). None of them rank among Frank's best work, of course, but I also don't agree with certain fans who dismiss them saying that they're raw and immature because Frank hadn't yet quite mastered the instrument. For my money, he had; and all three of them are far more atmospheric and profound than anything he'd composed on that instrument since. Okay, two of them: 'The Girl In The Magnesium Dress' is just three minutes of gentle vibrations - he imitates the vibes on the Synclavier, and it's kinda cute, but not exactly uplifting.

'Outside Now Again', however, is very good. It's supposed to be a re-write of 'Outside Now' from Joe's Garage, but you know how Frank always used to rewrite his tunes so that they would sound nothing like the originals. This time, it's just a spooky midtempo rhythm, occasionally breaking down, accompanied by what sounds like pseudo-medieval harpsichord/organ passages. It's simple, tasty, and effective, and, again, the pattern is never ruptured and the tempo is never changed, giving you full possibility to soak in the mystical atmosphere. Unusually dark and creepy for Zappa, too, although he certainly had an impulse to go for a darker sound than usual after purchasing the instrument.

As for the album closer, 'Jonestown', you might not believe me, but it's a relatively successful exercise at ambient - I wouldn't at all be surprised to meet something like this on a Brian Eno record. On the other hand, maybe not; the 'atonal clangs' which break the composition's chilly, almost robotic atmosphere, aren't really characteristic of Eno who prefers not to disconcentrate the listener's attention. Maybe King Crimson would be a better comparison. Maybe not. Anyway, at times it sounds pathetically like a soundtrack - I can imagine a small spacecraft blundering its way through an asteroid field, constantly bumping and crashing into small asteroids that thrust back and bump into each other and so on, and so on. Of course, at some times you get really annoyed and then it gives the impression of a stoned out Zappa stomping into his kitchen and bumping into all kinds of pots and pans, but hey, both images are equally worthy, aren't they? In any case, it's one of the best examples of Frank tacking a completely extraneous genre and succeeding.

A pity that the Boulez section of the album sucks so much (yeah, yeah, I know - 'In My Humble Opinion'). I would rather have an entire album of Frank's Synclavier compositions, especially considering it'd get worse later on. Now don't you fret, it's just that modern classical never inspires me. Way, way too ugly. Ambient, now we're talking. Now we're really talking my language.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Diverse to the point of suffocation, funny and intriguing - just not at all innovative by Frank's standards.


Track listing: 1) The Closer You Are; 2) In France; 3) Ya Hozna; 4) Sharleena; 5) Sinister Footwear II; 6) Truck Driver Divorce; 7) Stevie's Spanking; 8) Baby Take Your Teeth Out; 9) Marqueson's Chicken; 10) Planet Of My Dreams; 11) Be In My Video; 12) Them Or Us; 13) Frogs With Dirty Little Lips; 14) Whippin' Post.

In between all the mind-boggling experiments of 1984 comes this album which is just... well, just typical ordinary Frank Zappa, directly continuing the line of You Are What You Is and Ship Arriving Too Late. However, as far as quality goes, it is definitely closer to the former than the latter - besides, it's double, and hey, in Frank's case quantity is often perversely related to quality. And the little dog on the cover? The poodle bites!

This here puppy offers enough diversity for everybody, so it seems. There's a little bit of doo-wop, a little bit of heavy metal, some complex jazzy wanking, some offensive pop songs, and a smacky cover of the Allman Brothers' 'Whippin' Post' to top it off. The fact that there are two LPs actually offers Frank's contemporary band to stretch out, alternating really short ditties with really long jams, and this prevents the record from becoming yet another Man From Utopia; add to this that Them Or Us easily marks Steve Vai's peak in Zappa's entourage, and you got yourself a highlight.

Doo-wop is a very strong element on this album - 'The Closer You Are' opens the album with a melody/atmosphere not unlike the one in 'I Have Been In You', but unlike that satiric tidbit, 'The Closer You Are' is actually a goofy cover of an authentic doo-wop number, which means this record has to be taken, um, somewhat more seriously. There's also a re-recording of 'Sharleena' to be found on here, not better or worse than any other recording of the song, but with a classy shredding solo from Vai in the middle... not that it actually belongs there, but then again with Zappa you never know what actually belongs where. A shredding metal solo in the middle of a doo-wop tune? I mean, who could get away with something like that bar old Frank?

Then there's the offensive material - 'In France' is arguably the most vicious attack on the nation ever met in the rock world, with Johnny "Guitar" Watson delivering satiric comments about how they got 'mystery blow-jobs that turn your peter green' and 'when you go kaka, they make you stand up'. Yeah right. Rumours have it that the song is actually based upon real experiences the Zappa ensemble had in France on their 1982 tour; I don't even wanna know, really. Great harmonica job, too. 'Baby Take Your Teeth Out' is one song that, for good or worse, sounds exactly like a Sheik Yerbouti outtake, but it's really short (and I personally like the vocal, er, "contrasts" out there). But the real standout is 'Stevie's Spanking', which certainly ranks among Zappa's best hard rock songs of the epoch. Lyrically, it's all about Steve Vai's experiences with a groupie, but more important is that it totally cooks musically, with a great memorable riff and more fantastic guitar work from Mr Vai. That is, if you can stand shredders, of course.

But the goodies don't end there. Double album, remember? That gives Zappa the opportunity to put 'Ya Hozna' out there, a six-minute freaky jam replete with a set of overdubbed backwards vocals - that was Frank's way of mocking those who tried to find [Satanic] messages on virtually every rock record ever made during a particularly active craze in the early Eighties. Gosh, if anything, it proves that you don't need to actually encode anything in order to make your song sound like a real Satanic trip - 'Ya Hozna' sounds like your worst nightmare, don't ever try playing it out loud in front of somebody who's not in on the rules of the game or you'll end up in a soul asylum. With a green peter, too.

There's also a couple really serious jazzy improvs, too, like 'Sinister Footwear II' and 'Marqueson's Chicken', which you may or may not like - I'm not particularly hot on these things, but I think Vai manages to pull both of them out (in case that's really Vai on both of the tracks). You ready for more? Ol' Frank hasn't tired you out? Take 'Truck Driver Divorce', a typical epic in the 'Gregory Peccary' style but with far more coherent musical backup. Take the David Bowie mockery 'Be In My Video', a fun three-minute popster with more predictable, but still hilarious falsetto harmonies. Or the spooky 'Frogs With Dirty Little Lips', punctuated with real frog croaking and strange dripping water noises (parts of it sound not unlike your average Alice Cooper spookster). Or the surprisingly non-tongue-in-cheek live rendition of 'Whippin' Post' - if anything, this is the most unpredictable Zappa tune of the Eighties, because nobody could ever suspect the man being capable of taking such a straightforward, cliched blues-rocker and playing it with no goofiness involved. I mean, the Allman Brothers themselves could have been proud of this thing. There's a great vocal delivery, a great guitar solo, a tremendous coda... eh? What the heck?

Yet I guess that apart from 'Whippin' Post', if there's anything to accuse Them Or Us of, it's for being this very typical Zappa record. I mean, if you've heard all or most of the stuff that precedes it (like I have), you not only won't find any surprises, you can even get slightly bored. Yeah, the falsetto harmonies, yeah, the ace guitar work, yeah, the dick jokes, yeah, the avantgarde jazz thing, yeah, the doo-wop, yeah, so we all know that. At least You Are What You Is reinvented Frank somewhat musically, with more emphasis on hard-rocking guitar and with the bringing in of certain 'hi-tech' elements. Since then, he'd been coasting, and while Them Or Us is practically untouchable from the pure 'quality' angle (because there's not a single bad song on here if everything's all right with your peter, er, with your sense of humour, I mean), it certainly suffers from adding nothing new to the pile. Of course, though, it's pretty dumb to accuse Frank of lack of originality when he had four friggin' albums that year, but hey, I'm still giving it a 9, so gimme some space to rant, woncha?



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Musically insignificant, and conceptually abnormal; but at least it's a Historical Project of Major Importance.

Best song: HE'S SO GAY

Track listing: 1) Prologue; 2) The Mammy Nuns; 3) Harry & Rhonda; 4) Galoot Up-Date; 5) The 'Torchum' Never Stops; 6) That Evil Prince; 7) You Are What You Is; 8) Mudd Club; 9) The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing; 10) Clowns On Velvet; 11) Harry-As-A-Boy; 12) He's So Gay; 13) The Massive Improve'lence; 14) Artificial Rhonda; 15) The Crab-Grass Baby; 16) The White Boy Troubles; 17) No Not Now; 18) Briefcase Boogie; 20) Brown Moses; 21) Wistful Wit A Fist-Full; 22) Drop Dead; 23) Won Ton On.

Possibly the most infamous and fan-reviled Zappa release of 'em all - and yeah, Thing-Fish is not an easy thing to like, especially if it isn't your first Zappa purchase (that's right - if it isn't; it can, however, function as some kinda introduction to several of the man's sides). Historically, this was Frank's most ambitious undertaking since Joe's Garage and Läther and, in fact, the last of such undertakings - he'd significantly tone down his attitude and drop the amount of original songwriting after 1984, a year especially prolific for old Frank. It was originally a 3-LP set (now on 2 CDs); however, unlike Joe's Garage, this time the 3-LP format was somewhat forced - the album could have easily fit onto just 2 LPs. Frank's gigantomania goes again; only this time, the gigantomania is not at all justified, and fans all over the world ended up dropping shit on the record, not to mention dropping the record on shit.

Easy to see why. Frank's conceptual idea was to write a parody on your average Broadway musical - ridiculing and satirizing and putting down every existent social 'prejudice', as usual. To do this, he dressed his satire in an even more complicated, ununderstandable and ultimately laughable plot form: this time, the action revolves around an imaginary character called 'Thing-Fish' (played by Ike Willis) who belongs to a specific caste of the so-called 'Mammy Nuns' - unfortunate victims of governement-sponsored chemical experimentation destined to 'solve the problem' of black and gay people. You can see the 'Thing-Fish' in person on the cover of the album - potato-headed and duck-billed. Pfouagh. Later on, however, the plot gets really obscure: the Thing-Fish holds a Broadway show, two individuals named Harry and Rhonda get messed up with it, Harry gets confronted with himself 'as-a-boy', and later on it turns out that Harry-as-a-boy is gay, yet for some reason he also has a crush on Rhonda, who turns out to be a disguised inflatable doll, and together they have a baby called 'Crab-Grass Baby'; meanwhile, the real Harry falls in love with the Mammy Nuns and engages in sexual activity with one of them while Rhonda fucks a briefcase. In the final scene everybody happily sodomizes everybody.

Gee. What a concept. Well, more or less, this is the entire plot.

However, the main problem I find here is not the plot. After all, Zappa has always been known as a master of nonsense, and this particular load of pseudo-concept garbage comes off as no particular surprise. The problem is that from a musical point of view, Thing-Fish is an absolute zero. About half of the album is just insignificant background muzak, sometimes based on Broadway cliches, but more often it's just some professionally played, but nevertheless rudimentary accompaniment to the characters' dialogues. And as for the other half, most of it is material recycled from Frank's earlier albums: as in the case of Joe's Garage, the man never really had the guts to come up with enough original music for three LPs (well, who can blame him for that), but if Joe's Garage recycled music from the then-unreleased Läther, and so was a complete surprise to most of the average fans, Thing-Fish recycles music from already well-known albums, primarily You Are What You Is and Zoot Allures, plus a re-worked version of 'No Not Now' from Ship Arriving... Of course, all of these songs receive an alternative set of lyrics, and quite often, they are re-arranged, but hey, self-ripping-off is always self-ripping-off, no matter how well you mask it.

Just a couple of new tunes are interesting enough to be mentioned here - 'He's So Gay', Harry-as-a-boy's story of self-humiliation and subjugation, chugs along nicely and has a subtle pop melody, and both 'Galoot Up-Date' and 'The White Boy Troubles' (the first half of it - the sung one!) can count me in. But in every other case I find myself concentrating on the plot and the lyrics rather than the music, and that brings forth the problem of the plot's complete stupidity described above. In other words, while I can't quite understand the fans' hatred towards Man From Utopia, the loathing of Thing-Fish is completely understood and even absolutely predictable. The fact that parts of the album ended up as a Hustler spread only makes matters worse.

And yet, there are several things that manage to save the album - at least, are able to guarantee it an overall rating of eight (I'm sure most Zappa fans would find my rating it above Yellow Shark sacrilegious, but hey, what can I do? Nobody has yet convinced me of the worthiness of avantgarde classical music). First of all, the album is rarely - why rarely? never boring. Since there's so little music, the characters keep on singing and 'pushing the plot forward' all of the time, and stupid or not, you can't help being intrigued by the show. Second, the 'casting' is hilarious: I'm particularly meaning Ike Willis and his magnificent impersonation of Thing-Fish, with that wonderful, unparalleled accent that no real libretto can adequately reflect. It's really hard not to laugh when he comes up with his replicas - ' one o' dose top secret labmo-tories de gubbnint keep stashed away...' and so on. Likewise, Terry and Dale Bozzio do a fine job as Harry and Rhonda, and hey, what's that with the mind-blowing electronic encoding of the 'Crab-Grass Baby'? Cool.

Third, there's still much to enjoy among the lyrics - after all, while Frank was never a great 'plot' master, and he himself could easily acknowledge that, he was always a great lyricist, and I could swarm you here with tons of quotes and fantastic humouristic, biting ideas of the Zapmeister, but I simply won't. Oh, just one thing - I love it when 'Harry-as-a-boy', when asked by Thing-Fish if he's really learning, er, the basics of being gay, replies: 'I can't afford to study with anyone yet, since the bulk of my allowance goes for glue and Grateful Dead tickets'. And there are lots of genial lines like that one. Not to mention brilliant 'philosophical' statements, like the idea that the feminist movement has caused an increase in gay population because the idea of sex with 'liberated' females would be (in Harry's words) 'like fucking a slightly more voluptuous version of somebody's father'. Heh heh. Good old Frank, he always got straight to the point.

And lastly, it's not as dirty and utterly ugly as always described. Sure, some of the episodes gotta rank as some of the most obscene, pornographic pieces of 'art' ever recorded by Frank ('Briefcase Boogie', for instance, which features Rhonda describing the peculiarities of having sex with her briefcase), but few of this stuff really beats the sludgey robot-fucking of Joe's Garage, so don't wrinkle your nose. When 'Won Ton On' comes on (a reversed version of 'No Not Now'), you don't even realize what the hell everybody's doing.

So take it that way: as an historical landmark in off-Broadway entertainment, Thing-Fish really has its uses. I don't actually suppose that Frank intended the fans to perceive the show as three LPs worth of music - it's obvious that music interests him in the least here. And as a show, it's not tremendously great, and it has its weak spots, but on the parody level, it really works. And, of course, the presence of such things is absolutely necessary as a 'test' of freedom of speech, although this time Frank has really come close to crossing the borders between art and profanity. No wonder the Mothers Of Prevention record came out next year.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Either Frank's greatest farce, or Frank's grandest mystification.

Best song: look, this is classical music. Classical music isn't measured in songs. (Do I really have to tell you that?)

Track listing: 1) Opus I: No. 1, 1st Movement, Andante; 2) Opus I: No. 1, 2nd Movement, Allegro Con Brio; 3) Opus I: No. 2, 1st Movement, Andantino; 4) Opus I: No. 2, 2nd Movement, Minuetto Grazioso; 5) Opus I: No. 3, 1st Movement, Andantino; 6) Opus I: No. 3, 2nd Movement, Presto; 7) Opus I: No. 4, 1st Movement, Andante; 8) Opus I: No. 4, 2nd Movement, Allegro; 9) Opus I: No. 5, 2nd Movement, Minuetto Grazioso; 10) Opus I: No. 6, 1st Movement, Largo; 11) Opus I: No. 6, 2nd Movement, Minuet; 12) Opus IV: No. 1, 1st Movement, Andantino; 13) Opus IV: No. 1, 2nd Movement, Allegro Assai; 14) Opus IV: No. 2, 2nd Movement, Allegro Assai; 15) Opus IV: No. 3, 1st Movement, Andante; 16) Opus IV: No. 3, 2nd Movement, Tempo Di Minuetto; 17) Opus IV: No. 4, 1st Movement, Minuetto.

Look, just don't blame me. I really don't know if Francesco Zappa - I mean, the real Francesco Zappa - existed or not. What I know is as follows: (a) this is a relatively short, thirty-five-minutes plus album featuring Frank Zappa solo playing classical music on his Synclavier; (b) all of this music is credited to a certain composer Francesco Zappa, pictured on the back cover; (c) the liner notes claim that Francesco Zappa was a really existent Italian composer of the XVIIIth century (1763-1788), and that the album is 'His first digital recording in over 200 years'; (d) the liner notes also contain a lot of funny remarks about this Francesco Zappa, remarks that really can't possibly be taken seriously; (e) it has the silly little dog on the cover once again. Boy, do I love silly little dogs, especially when they're clad in XVIIIth century bourgeois outfits.

And that's it. These are the solid rock facts; now come the misty mountain interpretations and the soggy bog evaluations. I haven't been able to find anything about this 'Francesco Zappa' - Frank himself claims that he discovered his sheetnotes in some obscure archive of some obscure American library (though how the hell they got there is a mystery, too), and it seems that up to his death he never disclaimed his mystification - if it is a mystification. And unless somebody proves me wrong I'll just have to assume this is a mystification - after all, it's Frank Zappa we're talking about. A simple statement of 'Francesco Zappa was a real Italian composer', found in the liner notes and Zappa-related literature, isn't sufficient for me; not to mention that I haven't been able to find out anything about the guy from any Frank Zappa-unrelated sources whatsoever. Huh?

The music itself, though, is pretty nice. I'm really not fit for reviewing classical music - this is a process vastly different from reviewing rock music, and I don't know how to describe this stuff, but I'll give it a try anyway, okay? The music seems to be divided in two big opuses (or, to give it the true plural, opera), entitled I and IV; the opera themselves are then subdivided into subparts and the subparts into movements, seventeen tracks in all. The movements are all short, ranging from one to three minutes, and the listen is not exhausting, although it can be sometimes hard to digest Frank's Synclavier as opposed to, er, um, more 'traditional' ways of recording classical music. Nevertheless, he plays it well, cleverly substituting the orchestral, string and harpsichord parts with different harmonies; I think that the Synclavier best imitates the harpsichord, but Synclavier contrabass can also be a lot of fun. Of course, I'd better be off with real classical music than this weird substitute - but it's entertaining in any case.

As for the music itself, well, it matches the classic Mozartian style pretty well - sometimes I have trouble trying to 'translate' the Synclavier phrases and harmonies into what they might sound like as played by a string quartet or an orchestra, but it works more often than not. I'm no expert, but at times I can feel direct Mozart quotations here - especially in Opus IV. If that is so, this might be another point to prove that the whole business is a 'fake'; but if it is, well, in that case Frank had mastered the classical business just fine. These melodies are nice, pretty and gentle - ranging from catchy minuettos to more energetic 'allegros'.

I personally prefer the shorter Opus IV, as I feel it showcases Frank's playing skills a little better (and has a lot of excellent harpsichord passages), but that's simply a matter of taste, if you ever doubted it. Opus I, for instance, can be described as slightly more introspective and gentle; particularly the first parts, as in 'No. 1 1st Movement Andante', which is, in a certain sense, simply gorgeous. Even if Frank did not compose this, but mainly transferred the already written parts into Synclavier arrangements, this is still a remarkable proof of his genius - that he could once in a while abstract himself from gimmicky and avantgarde matters and display a real 'classicist' talent.

But I'll shut up now, because that's about all I can say about this record - don't torment me with further questions. This sounds like a cross between Mozart and Hendel. Satisfied? Now buy this album.

Of course, rating such a record is kind of a hard problem. How would you rate some good quality pseudo-classical music written by such a weirdo as Frank Zappa? I give it a seven, but not for all the jewels on Earth could I explain to you why this is a seven and not a six or an eight. Maybe it's a bit too short; then again, maybe it's a bit too long. Maybe it's wonderful and atmospheric; then again, maybe it's derivative and plagiaristic. Anyway, this here rating is entirely subjective, so for a better understanding, please check it out for yourself. Unless the album is out of print, which might well be.



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

A conventional 'document'. Unfortunately, it's not even half-funny.

Best song: I DON'T EVEN CARE

Track listing: 1) I Don't Even Care; 2) One Man One Vote; 3) Little Beige Sambo; 4) Aerobics In Bondage; 5) We're Turning Again; 6) Alien Orifice; 7) Yo Cats; 8) What's New In Baltimore?; 9) Porn Wars; 10) H. R. 2911.

Now this is certainly dismissable. An album that would have never existed if not for the problem that 'counterculture' found itself in trouble one day. The exact day was September 19, 1985, the day when Frank Zappa testified before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation on the matter of, ahem, 'porn rock' (Thing-Fish? Remember that one?). Apparently, senators Hollings, Hawkins, Exon, Gorton et al. were intending to put mass art in shackles - at least, so it seemed to Mr Zappa, and we all know that Mr Zappa is the Proud Knight Of Art Freedom in person, so he couldn't but state his fie against it and the whole business that the Parents Music Resource Center and suchlike organisations were conducting. So Mr Zappa testified, and frank-ly speaking, I'm not too sure whether he succeeded in convincing the 'Mothers Of Prevention', as he calls 'em, in the need of total artistic freedom... probably not, but who cares? Mr Zappa is a good old dude anyway!

Now, would you ask, why's I tellin' you all about dat shit? Well, it appears that Frank was so proud of his battles that he decided to hastily make up a 'historical document' on the spot, an entire album that would serve as a glorious monument to these 'porn wars'. To do that, he somehow acquired the tapes of the hearings (by means of a break-up, no doubt), cut them into small pieces, added some moody musical background, tape loops, made some acceleration and overdubs, added some old stuff from the Lumpy Gravy sessions, and cooked it all under the name of, well, 'Porn Wars'. Let me warn you now that this twelve-minute farce is very entertaining to listen to once and horrendously annoying to listen to twice. Starting with a whole extract from the introductory speech of senator Hollings (Frank's main enemy, it so seems), it then proceeds to rip it to shreds and repeat these shreds all over the track. So what you mostly hear is something like, you know, twenty voices at once, ten of which are coming from your left speaker and ten from the right, repeating 'outrageous filth outrageous filth' or 'maybe I could become a good rock star maybe I could become a good rock star' at several different speeds. For twelve minutes, mind you. Okay, so they add some more interesting extracts now and then, and at some point in steps Ike Willis and delivers a hilarious monologue in his 'Thing-Fish' voice, but that's actually small consolation. Personally, I think that if Frank would have released the entire hearings instead, uncut and 'uncensored', it would have more value - I mean, nobody would have listened to it more than once, sure, but at least that would be a precious historic document. As such, the 'historic document' is left to rot in the Capitol archives, and we have to deal with Frank's shitty reinterpretation.

Moreover, twelve minutes of 'Porn Wars', even if they seem to drag on for eternity, can't really make up for an entire album. And Frank was somewhat hard pressed to come up with new song material at the moment - maybe his mind was already completely absorbed by his contemporary classical experiments. As a result, apart from 'Porn Wars', there's but three vocal tracks on the whole album, and the best of these, 'I Don't Even Care', wasn't even present on the original US release. It's an unessential, but nice little song, interesting in that it sounds kinda funky, what with the singin' guy (Johnny "Guitar" Watson) rappin' it up and these backing vocals chanting 'I don't care' all the time; yet in the background one distinguishes a solid heavy riff that actually holds the song down and makes it closer to hard rock than to anything else. Clever. The two other songs, however, are throwaways: 'We're Turning Again' has interesting lyrics but no melody (the guitar solo is cool, though), and 'Yo Cats', sung by Ike Willis, is a terribly unconvincing stab at a Broadway jazz tune that becomes excruciating after the first thirty seconds. Even the vocal tracks on Sleep Dirt are more recommendable.

The rest of this record is completely dismissable - it consists of a number of instrumentals that Zappa composed and performed on his Synclavier, one of his strongest passions at the time, and a passion which only seemed to be growing since he first initiated the procedure on Perfect Stranger. Some of them are rather nice and make good, inoffensive background music, and in any case, composing on a Synclavier was a brilliant way to steer clear of the cheesy contemporary synths and nasty electronics and be 'progressive' at the same time, but really, there's just nothing of interest going on. It all sounds as if it was just Frank sitting in his room and making lazy, idle passes at his instrument with a tape recorder in the corner (which it probably was), and there's just no reason to listen to it any day again.

The best thing about the record, actually, is the funny yellow sticker that comes on some CD versions. I quote: 'The language and concepts contained herein are GUARANTEED NOT TO CAUSE ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE PLACE WHERE THE GUY WITH THE HORNS AND POINTED STICK CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS' (actually, it was also present on the original pressing of Thing-Fish as well). Find it and read it. But don't buy it. 'Cause you don't need it.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

More live performances, this time with a slightly more electronic feel. But the songs are mostly good.

Best song: WPLJ

Track listing: 1) Zoot Allures; 2) Tinsel Town Rebellion; 3) Trouble Every Day; 4) Penguin In Bondage; 5) Hot-Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel; 6) What's New In Baltimore; 7) Cock-Suckers' Ball; 8) WPLJ; 9) Let's Move To Cleveland; 10) Whippin' Post.

Just another live album, simply put; this one, however, was originally released without Frank's consent. Yet it shows that record company guys sometimes have good taste, as well: this is definitely not among Frank's worst recordings. Note: there's also a video sporting the same name and dating from the same tour, but as far as I know, it features a different set of performances, so both the album and the 'moving picture' are worth hunting for.

The band here is Frank's regular outfit, with just a few differencies - I don't think I remember Alan Zavod on keyboards, for instance; plus, Frank's son Dweezil makes a surprising 'guest appearance' on the cover of 'Whippin' Post', carried over from the Them Or Us album. There's no brass section at all, though, and that's something for the hardcore fan to get worried about: Frank would correct that mistake in a couple of years with his 'best band you never heard in your life', but for now, all you gotta hear is guitars and synths. I couldn't say, though, that Frank was giving in to the times: true, the album did come out in 1986 which I consider the absolute worst year in the history of rock music, but unlike most of his peers and contemporaries, Frank is able to dominate these electronic sounds without having to really sacrifice his trademark styles. Well, maybe not quite: sometimes the synths do get overbearing (like they never would on the 1988 tour), but most often you don't have to complain about the sound. Chad Wackerman adds lots of electronic enhancement to his drums, but hey, these aren't drum machines - it's a live person drumming, and the drumming is certainly impressive; and Frank has started to diversify his own guitar playing with lots of clever effects, almost a la Robert Fripp, which certainly brings in a lot of freshness as compared to his older styles of playing - stunning, no doubt, but already getting a bit stale. For a more thorough look at this side of Frank's technical abilities, please consider Guitar, reviewed below.

That said, nothing on here is really spectacular - nothing ever takes my breath away. Solid, yes, but the tunes don't differ much from what we've heard earlier, and even when they do, there's not much of a 'brilliant innovative flavour' about them. The material ranges considerably - from totally new, fresh stuff like 'What's New In Baltimore' to old rusty standards like 'Trouble Every Day', and diversity is good, but in this particular case, diversity doesn't make the package more exciting. The only thing that, for no special reason, really catches my eye, is the little 'oddball' bit of two cover tunes in the middle. There's 'Cock-Suckers' Ball', called 'pointlessly profane' by Wilson & Alroy for a good reason: a one-minute obscenity rant which is nevertheless quite funny, not to mention that Frank presages it with the usual call-to-arms - 'hey, this is for all the Republicans in the audience...' And 'WPLJ' is the gooda olda boogga-woogga, so why refuse it? It's my favourite cut on the record, so there, and I could care less that it's less than two minutes long. Don't you know I just love a good little boggie-woogie? Not to mention that it was doo-wop originally. :) (check out Burnt Weeny Sandwich to dig down to the roots).

What else? The instrumentals are mostly okay; 'Zoot Allures' is nowhere near as strong as the original, but passable; and the lengthy 'Let's Move To Cleveland' for some reason manages to strike a bell with me, although it never managed to do so in the presumably superior version captured on Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life. Maybe it's because the playing here is somewhat more distinctive and less drowned in tons of instrumentation. Oh, yeah, many people tend to be bothered by Chad Wackerman's electronic percussion solo on that one, but I find it somewhat creative and - in any case - not very long in the context of the whole sixteen-minute experience of the song (some of Mr Zavod's extended keyboard solos bother me far more, in fact). Oh, and the version of 'What's New In Baltimore' that's on here easily beats out the original - even if it's still nowhere near 'memorable'.

In any case, since I just don't want to do all-encompassing surveys of every single track Frank has ever recorded live, I'll just mention three more tracks and shut my mouth forever. (Till the next review, that is). Number One. 'Tinsel Town Rebellion' has finally struck me here as a truly interesting song - they tone down the annoying 'scat' factor that annoyed me so much five years earlier and came out with a real winner. The contrast between the fast rocking part and the doo-woppy 'chorus' is fascinating. Number Two. 'Trouble Every Day' is, this time around, partially reinterpreted as a grizzly anti-MTV sendup (isn't that easy - just substitute the line '..of watching my TV...' for '...of watching MTV...'?), and thus has a special place in my heart - I hate MTV with a passion, and all I needed was an anthem. And here it is. So I'm willing to forget the fact that they lost the old melody and substituted it with a strange funky beat with huge emphasis on Wackerman's Wack-o 'b-b-b-b-oom' percussion. Number Three. 'Whipping Post' is rendered splendidly, with not an ounce of parodic smell around it and a powerful instrumental break, where Dweezil Zappa tries to emulate his father (on guitar, that is), fails, and still comes out looking authentic and professional. The greatest thing about the song, IMHO, is the thick, roaring guitar lines that Frank plays in the chorus section - pay attention to these, like a motorcycle roarin' down the highway. Impressive, and a great addition to the Allmans' classic.

And now I'm ready to shut up. Wait - just wanted to say that the title is kinda strange. The question put by Frank is understood, but he hardly gives an answer - it really ain't a comedy record, at least, not any more comedy than any other of Frank's live recordings. Kinda strange - maybe humor does not belong in music after all. Or 'have I offended someone'?



Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

That's right. Guitar. Lots of it.

Best song: FOR DUANE

Track listing: 1) Sexual Harassment In The Workplace; 2) Which One Is It?; 3) Republicans; 4) Do Not Pass Go; 5) Chalk Pie; 6) In-A-Gadda-Stravinsky; 7) That's Not Really Reggae; 8) When No One Was No One; 9) Once Again Without The Net; 10) Outside Now (original solo); 11) Jim & Tammy's Upper Room; 12) Were We Ever Really Safe In San Antonio?; 13) That Ol' G Minor Thing Again; 14) Hotel Atlanta Incidentals; 15) That's Not Really A Shuffle; 16) Move It Or Park It; 17) Sunrise Redeemer; 18) Variations On Sinister #3; 19) Orrin Hatch On Skis; 20) But Who Was Fulcanelli?; 21) For Duane; 22) GOA; 23) Winos Do Not March; 24) Swans? What Swans?; 25) Too Ugly For Show Business; 26) Systems Of Edges; 27) Do Not Try This At Home; 28) Things That Look Like Meat; 29) Watermelon In Easter Hay; 30) Canadian Customs; 31) Is That All There Is?; 32) It Ain't Necessarily The Saint James Infirmary.

Confused about the rating? Aye, aye, matey. I'm confused about it myself. Anyway, this is a double CD with an overall length of two hours plus, and, trusty to its predecessor (Shut Up 'N' Play Your Guitar, of course, and its sequels), it has, once again, naught but a bunch of guitar solos culled by Frank from his numerous venues in the early Eighties. The liner notes carefully depict all the sources and all the players involved, but that's something for the devoted Zappa fan to bother about. And while the general word of mouth has been that this is vastly inferior to Shut Up, well me, I just wanna say that either I'm plain crazy or what, but I dig this record (yeah, I've always suspected some masochistic inclinations deep down my troubled self! that must be it!)

Okay, let me explain a lil' sumpthin and concentrate on some theoretical aspects of this style that I haven't been too hot on while discussing Shut Up. First, the record is exactly what it is. It is called Guitar, it pictures Frank with a guitar on both the front and the back covers, it's said to consist exactly of guitar solos and that's exactly what it consists of. And if you're familiar with Frank's guitar skills, you can probably imagine what this stuff can sound like (and if you already own Does Humor Belong In Music?, you probably know what this sounds like, as most of these solos were taken from Frank's early Eighties' live tours - just keep in mind that these selections are notably better than the actual solos played on DHBIM). Therefore, you're fully informed of everything before buying the record, and you either go and buy it or you don't. I can't really imagine a person buying an album like this hoping that it will sound according to his tastes and throwing it away in disgust when he finds out it is not so. Me, I knew what I was getting, and I got it - intentionally and fully conscious of my actions, plus I'm over 21. And I found out that the album is fully adequate - it gives exactly what it says, no more and no less. So I'm content.

Second - Frank Zappa is really a great guitarist, although I think I already said that millions of times over here. If he were just an ordinary 'hack' with a basic knowledge of chords, it would be a stately bore. But Zappa's guitar playing is fully competent and definitely professional. Beginning lead guitarists can safely use this CD as, say, a guidebook to the art of some sorts; and know-nothings like me might just be interested in learning the possibilities of masterful fusion guitar, which he explores here, and I'm not afraid to say that, far more diligently than that other wimpy fusion genius, Jeff Beck.

Of course, listening to the record with a special aim - I mean, listen for the sake of listening - would be a foolish and a completely unnecessary thing to do; I doubt that Frank ever intended Guitar to be ranked on the same shelf as the rest of his records. Nope. But for me, this would be an excellent thing to put on in a car (if I drove one) or while cleaning the house (which I don't do often) or if I want to hasten the departure of an unnecessary guest (fortunately, I rarely get those). Which means I won't be putting this on much too often - but that's all right by me. Not often, but sometimes. And I'm absolutely not offended. Personally, I far prefer these 'sonic explorations' to, say, Cream's lengthy jams: Frank manages to combine the lengthy musical voyages of Clapton with the unpredictability and technical inventiveness of Hendrix and come up with a masterful synthesis of the styles of both.

I admit that spending an entire two hours of your time in a row over this record will probably result in a severe attack of paranoia; taken in small doses, though, this is great stuff. The problem is that the solos all segue directly one into another, so it's not quite clear when to push the 'stop' button - I hate interrupting a composition midway through, but if that's all right with you, count the problem resolved. All the solos have their own special 'names', few of which are really related to the tunes, but a lot of which are exceedingly funny ('Orrin Hatch On Skis', 'It Ain't Necessarily The Saint James Infirmary', 'Were We Ever Really Safe In San Antonio?', etc.). You bet your life I won't go around discussing every one of these exuberant excesses, but I'll just state the high points in a few sentences to try and give you a small picture of what's this stuff all about.

The intro number, 'Sexual Harassment In The Workplace', is the one tune on the whole record that somehow approaches musical accomplishment - it's a majestic, slightly sad synth-driven rocker adorned by smoking guitar lines (Zappa's said to be playing a 'Hendrix Strat' on that one, and it shows). 'In-A-Gadda-Stravinsky' is funny because it matches its title: Frank plays an excerpt from Stravinsky while the bass player, Scott Thunes, pushes on with the 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' riff. And my favourite on disc 1 is 'That Ol' G Minor Thing Again', where the interplay between Frank and Steve Vai on 'stunt guitar' is simply breathtaking - both are playing sharp, vicious lightning-speed licks that seem like they just can't get better. Wrong. They can, on 'For Duane' from the second disc (Duane Allman, no doubt), where Frank is supported by a generic heavy blues riff and basically burns down his guitar with some of the fastest, angriest, ass-kickingest (I know that's not a word, but it has to be one) solos I've ever heard. What a shame it's impossible to hear the actual songs these solos were taken from (note: 'For Duane' is obviously taken from a live version of 'Whippin' Post' similar to the one on Does Humor Belong In Music; and it's vastly superior to the one played there by Dweezil).

That's actually the main problem: normally, a good solo is just a good solo, and it only becomes a great solo when it belongs to a song. In this respect, Guitar, together with all its predecessors, just can't rank as Frank's highest live achievement because... because it can't. If my site were destined for lead guitar players, I'd have easily given this a 15/15 with no remorse at all; however, it's just for music listeners, and I doubt many music listeners will be able to tolerate this. I can, and I'll be looking out for more stuff like that; but I realize I'm probably alone on that one. Well, here I am and I'm not moving. Take me on!



Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

And again, Frank accumulates a potload of humour and witty musical ideas and makes a minor masterpiece. Political jazz, eh? Well - not quite!


Track listing: 1) Elvis Has Just Left The Building; 2) Planet Of The Baritone Women; 3) Any Kind Of Pain; 4) Dickie's Such An Asshole; 5) When The Lie's So Big; 6) Rhymin' Man; 7) Promiscuous; 8) The Untouchables; 9) Why Don't You Like Me?; 10) Bacon Fat; 11) Stolen Moments; 12) Murder By Numbers; 13) Jezebel Boy; 14) Outside Now; 15) Hot Plate Heaven And The Green Hotel; 16) What Kind Of Girl?; 17) Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk.

The best thing about this album is the back cover, the one that features Frank standing 'on guard' and holding his ear close to a little white tape recorder. Why, would you ask? Why, because it is exactly the same tape recorder that I used to have in my childhood! My first and best! 'Sharp', I think it was... Even the play button is blue, and the record button is light orange - like I remember them!

Er, well, nostalgia apart, this was really a joke. Yeah, the tape recorder is cool, but the music is actually better. This one's a lengthy live album, mostly focusing on new material. The title isn't taken by random, this is indeed a parody on a Broadway show, with an enormous backing band, horn sections, and Bobby Martin on ridiculously pompous operatic vocals (sometimes). And, of course, it's terribly funny; otherwise it would be completely forgettable. While Wilson & Alroy rant about it exploiting every musical style possible, I'm quite a bit confused as to what they mean - while the band indeed exploits more rhythms than a standard 4/4, the arrangements are all very similar, just the same guitars/keybs/horns interplay, with next to no instrumental passages, no interesting riffs and anyway, most of the melodies here only serve as a canvas for the lyrics. But man, what incredible lyrics! Lyricswise, this album gets a ten, ten times ten - believe it or not, I never laughed so hard in the whole past year (and it's been pretty hard on me, too)! And I'm not even American - a lot of this stuff deals with specifical yuppie realities, that I just don't understand at all, but they're hilarious in any case. Come to think of it, I doubt whether every current American (not to mention Americans living in the 21st century and upwards, unless some crazy Russian jerk drops a couple of atomic bombs on L.A. - heh, heh, now don't you worry, just a little Cold War humor over there), anyway, I doubt whether every current American will enjoy the humor, because some of it is dated. In much of the songs, Frank deals with the States system around 1988, calling various politicians and social personalities by names (a thing he'd rarely done before) and just trying to make the audience stand on its head.

Dated? Sure. Musically unenlightening? No question about that. But certainly the best deal Frank could make of the situation: instead of farting around, just put out a good, innocent laugh. And for about three fourths of the album, it actually works. The show opens with 'Elvis Has Just Left The Building', a funny folksy waltz about, well, about you know who: 'He gave away Cadillacs once in a while, had sex in his underpants, yes he had style!' So, Elvis is the first dude getting beaten, and he later makes him share the fate of 'Fluke Artist' with Michael Jackson, in the terrific 'Why Don't You Like Me?', a song that ridicules the whole black & white affair, reaching its culmination at the moment when Frank starts asking audience members 'what's your name' and loudly shouting 'His name is Bob - Bob is NOT the illegitimate son of Michael Jackson!' And that's but two numbers!

Other highlights (which are so numerous that I probably won't be able to name everything) include: 'Promiscuous', a giggly rap parody that deals with doctor Koop and his prescriptions ('He says it is not good for us/We just can't be promiscuous/He's just a doctor he should know/It's the work of the Devil so girls don't blow!'); 'Rhymin' Man', sung by a member of the band, a great pop pamphlet against the Democrats (note, by the way, how well the band incorporates snippets of a thousand different tunes in between each line of each verse - now that's instrumental skill for you!); and the magnum opus of the show, in fact, its definite conceptual centerpiece - 'Dickie's Such An Asshole'! If you haven't heard it, you don't know how really funny and amazingly entertaining Frank can be! It's built around the concept of a 'confinement loaf' - a special kind of food recommended for the US jails in order to soften the prisoners' minds, and Frank tries to model a situation where the 'confinement loaf' is introduced into US schools. (The concept later re-appears on many of the album's tracks). The track itself is built as a cool, a bit sloppy R'n'B number, with Ike Willis (him?) taking a stab at wonderfully silly scat lyrics and Frank singing in his scary tone again.

Oh! Did I mention a guest appearance by Sting yet? He's right here, and he even contributes to the show by taking a stab at Jim Swaggart and his condemnation of 'Murder By Numbers', after which proceeds to sing the number himself, in a (naturally) jazzy arangement. And then there's 'The Untouchables', Frank's political declaration where he proceeds to declare anathema on almost every active member of the government; and the fast, jerky 'Bacon Fat', with the 'confinement loaf' theme again, and 'Jezebel Boy', and...

...forget it. I'm not gonna name everything. Plus, the end of the album is a bit drawn out - I could do without 'Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk', for instance, or, at least, I would gladly agree to it being five or six minutes shorter than it actually is. But it never spoils anything - it's just that, with all the similarity of sound, the album can sometimes get monotonous. You'll get used to it, of course, even if you hate Broadway musicals. This is one Broadway musical you're gonna like. Broadway The Hard Way, ladies and gentlemen, Broadway The Hard Way!



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Some of the most stunning musical ideas here I've ever heard. If not for the filler, could have been a masterpiece.

Best song: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (that's a fact and I state it categorically)

Track listing: CD I: 1) Heavy Duty Judy; 2) Ring Of Fire; 3) Cosmik Debris; 4) Find Her Finer; 5) Who Needs The Peace Corps?; 6) I Left My Heart In San Francisco; 7) Zomby Woof; 8) Bolero; 9) Zoot Allures; 10) Mr Green Genes; 11) Florentine Pogen; 12) Andy; 13) Inca Roads; 14) Sofa # 1;

CD II: 1) Purple Haze; 2) Sunshine Of Your Love; 3) Let's Move To Cleveland; 4) When Irish Eyes Are Smiling; 5) Godfather Pat II Theme; 6) A Few Moments With Brother A. West; 7) The Torture Never Stops (part 1); 8) Theme From Bonanza; 9) Lonesome Cowboy Burt (Swaggart Version); 10) The Torture Never Stops (part two); 11) More Trouble Every Day (Swaggart Version); 12) Penguin In Bondage (Swaggart Version); 13) The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue; 14) Stairway To Heaven.

More glorious material from, arguably, the greatest live band Zappa had ever assembled (well, except for the Roxy lineup - but that's a different matter entirely). The liner notes tell us that the band was extremely shortlived and fell apart after just a few months of touring, and I can believe that: such magnificent, ultra-professional combos do not really last long. Fortunately, they performed enough different material to fill up three live albums: The Best Band is the second out of the three, and, unlike Broadway The Hard Way, it prefers to concentrate on versions of older material, or, to quote Frank himself, 'big-band arrangements of concert favourites and obscure album cuts, along with deranged versions of cover tunes and a few premiere recordings'. Well, I hardly see any 'premiere recordings' here (except for a couple numbers, perhaps), but who cares when the performances are that great?

The album is double, and I'll probably run into enough trouble if I'm going to mention all the tracks. Suffice it to say that it does get kinda boring in a bunch of places, and a single eighty-minute CD of this stuff would probably be the ultimate live Zappa record, whereas two hours can get tedious. This regards especially disc 2, whose instrumentals like 'Let's Move To Cleveland' or the infamous 'Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue' bore the hell out of me. There's only so much jazz or jazz-rock noodlings my dehydrated organism can take once in a while, and I'm quite satisfied with the guitar heroics on 'Zoot Allures' and the vocal tracks. Plus, there are some songs that I never really liked in their original versions, and they're not much improved here. Thus, the first disc ends with twenty plus minutes of tunes taken from One Size Fits All, which was never my favourite album, and there's no way these versions of 'Inca Roads' or 'Andy' could make me change my mind. Yeah, Frank and Co. really try, and they even insert a quotation from 'Stayin' Alive' in 'Inca Roads' (!!!!), but no, thanks. The fools, they didn't even bother to include 'Sofa No. 2', doing its boring instrumental counterpart 'Sofa No. 1' instead. Oh well. At least there's 'Florentine Pogen'.

Even so, there's just so many things I deeply love about the record that I wouldn't know where to start. Perhaps it's the magnificent, jazzified rendition of 'Zombie Woof' that makes me go so totally wow. Maybe the material off Zoot Allures? 'The Torture Never Stops' does lose parts of its coolness without the sexy female screams, but it's still a magnificent creepy tune, here separated in two parts, in between which they insert the stupid-to-the-point-of-being-genius 'Lonesome Cowboy Burt'. 'Find Her Finer'? Superb. 'Cosmik Debris'? Reminds me of how much I dislike Apostrophe', but when taken out of its trippy, messy context, it sounds great by itself. And the band even goes as far as to resurrect 'Who Needs The Peace Corps?'; maybe the song's lyrical matter has dated, but you couldn't really tell considering the band's enthusiasm as they take off into uncompromised hippie bashing.

My biggest pleasures, though, come out of enjoying these fabulous 'deranged' cover tunes. At the beginning, Frank tells us a story about how Johnny Cash was going to go and join them to sing 'Ring Of Fire', but then his wife got ill and he couldn't make his appearance, so they just do 'Ring Of Fire' with no Johnny Cash at all. Needless to say, they pull it off magnificently. Next, they do a reggae version of Ravel's 'Bolero' - and an immaculate one at that (the weird thing is that this version seems to be banned in Europe for reasons which are way beyond me - personally, I don't see any signs of desecration in this superb performance). And the most hilarious stuff comes in on disc two. Again, for some strange reasons Zappa fans detest the covers of 'Purple Haze' and 'Sunshine Of Your Love'; I adore them. This is not serious artistic material, of course - just a totally enthralling, ridiculous-beyond-imagination parody: Frank arranges the two songs as robotic, almost industrial numbers, with booming metallic drums and hi-tech synths providing most of the background and the brass section often supplying the main riffs. On top of that, Ike Willis (if it's Ike Willis) 'recites' the lyrics in a cold, detached robotic tone, often substituting the original lines for well-known gags like 'scuse me while I kiss this guy' or groovy pronunciation, like you know, 'I'll stay wid ye til' all o' dem stars start to fallin' and stuff like that. Cool? Super duper, ladies and gentlemen.

The major surprise arrives at the very end - one of the most fascinating cover versions I've ever heard. Not that this version of 'Stairway To Heaven' is better than the original (God save me from that); I'm simply amazed at the sheer genius of Frank, because it sure takes a genius to do that fabulous rearrangement. The brass is incorporated brilliantly into the song, the main 'body' is basically littered with various special effects, birds chirping, guitars and synths twanging, somebody quietly vomiting in the background, and, believe it or not, forests actually echoing with laughter. And when the solo comes? It's brass! Can you believe that? The original Page guitar solo is repeated by the brass section - perhaps not note-for-note, as it's hardly possible, but as close to the original as possible. Actually, all the parts are swapped: the guitar is substituted by brass, while that soothing, moody organ that supports the solo is substituted by guitars. It's like a total redefinition of the instruments' functions, and it works amazingly well. Parody? Can't argue with that. But I tell you, I'd rather hear a brilliantly executed parody on 'Stairway' than have it covered 'sincerely' by some snubby and presumably banal 'rock act' who'd only ruin it in the process. And this parody is brilliantly executed. My favourite track on the album, period. I actually played it five times in a row today and I still can't get enough of it.

All in all, just like Broadway, this album is a richly rewarding experience. Perhaps it's hard for anybody but a Zappa diehard to sit through the entire record in one sitting, but I tell you what: just tape your favourite tracks on a 60-minute tape and you'll end up with your personal masterpiece. This may not be 'the best band you never heard in your life', but that's only because you've already actually heard it. What a shame Frank wasn't able to keep the level of tension at a low point; then again, it's all history, so who really cares? We've still got all these groovy records!



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Some more of the same stuff - but this time, accenting instrumental jazz tunes. Proceed at your own risk.

Best song: that little 'oldies medley' on the first disc, I guess...

Track listing: CD I: 1) Stinkfoot; 2) When Yuppies Go To Hell; 3) Fire And Chains; 4) Let's Make The Water Turn Black; 5) Harry You're A Beast; 6) The Orange County Lumber Truck; 7) Oh No; 8) Theme From Lumpy Gravy; 9) Eat That Question; 10) Black Napkins; 11) Big Swifty; 12) King Kong; 13) Star Wars Won't Work;

CD II: 1) The Black Page (new age version); 2) T'Mershi Duween; 3) Dupree's Paradise; 4) City Of Tiny Lights; 5) Royal March From L'Histoire Du Soldat; 6) Theme From The Bartok Piano Concerto #3; 7) Sinister Footwear 2nd mvt.; 8) Stevie's Spanking; 9) Alien Orifice; 10) Cruisin' For Burgers; 11) Advance Romance; 12) Strictly Genteel.

Whew, what a disappointment. The last of the three 1988 tour releases, and also the biggest (about 140 minutes long!), Make A Jazz Noise Here also lives up to its name - unfortunately, that's what Frank's band is mostly busy with. Where the first two discs concentrated on, respectively, new comical-flavoured material, and trusty renditions of old favourites plus bizarre covers, this album is based on lengthy, super-professional and, for the most part, boring jazz passages. Some of these are improvised, some not, some grab my attention more, some less, but overall, out of the three albums this one's undeniably the weakest.

Disc 1 sets the mood immediately - after a brief moment of power and glory, as Frank proudly announces the unhappy fate of poor Jimmy Swaggart, and an okayish rendition of 'Stink Foot', the band goes into a lengthy, excruciating, unbearable, er, 'composition' called 'When Yuppies Go To Hell'; as a total hero, I had the patience to sit through it twice, but third time around I'll probably toss the damn CD outta the window. I can't even describe it - sounds like 'industrial jazz' to me, possibly with elements of industrial psychedelia meshed in. They already used that kind of sound for arranging 'Purple Haze', but that was funny; this track is simply total crap.

Fortunately, it's about the only completely misguided effort on both discs: all the other tunes are at the worst passable. But 'passable' doesn't mean 'uplifting'. Much too often, I just get the feeling that the boys in the band are being self-indulgent and play just for the sake of playing. Worse, the tracks segue one into another without any breaks; add to this that the tracks themselves are often multipart, with the band changing the time signature and the melody at a single wave from Frank's hand, and 'track listing' as a concept becomes absolutely unnecessary. What for? What's in a name, after all?

Now comes the time to explain why I gave the album a six (although a five was considered a possible variant, too). Apart from the fact that 'When Yuppies Go To Hell' is the only truly offensive track here, there are some highlights not mentioning which would be criminy. Thus, in between 'Yuppies' and the two lengthy wank-a-thons that end Disc 1 ('Big Swifty'; 'King Kong'; who cares? I don't even notice when one ends and the other begins), we get a terrific, fluid, immaculate 'medley' of classicearly Zappa tunes, most of 'em instrumental, most of 'em also short. 'Let's Make The Water Turn Black' has never been better, flashing its delicate jazzy melody around; 'Harry You're A Beast' is much too short to be noticed, but still fun; the immortal 'Orange County Lumber Truck' - complex, but memorable; 'Oh No' - pompous and fun; the main theme from Lumpy Gravy (ah, if only the rest of that record lived up to its brilliancy); and 'Eat That Question' from Grand Wazoo, just as meaningless as ever but at least short. Very refreshing and diverse, and at least it gives you something to boost about before diving headfirst into the endless noodlings of 'Big Swifty'...

Unfortunately, Disc 2 is practically all rote. Okay, if you're a big jazz lover, not to mention a big Jazzzappa lover, this is for you - even if I don't understand what on earth should make you want to skip the original versions of 'Sinister Footwear', etc., and engage in these live workouts. But me, oh no oh no. 'Stevie's Spanking', taken from Them Or Us, is funny enough, although its gruff, metallic core hardly fits in between all that jazz. And 'Advance Romance' is as good as always, even if it is no longer sung by Captain Beefheart (maybe because it is...?) And 'Cruisin' For Burgers' is a classic, although eight and a half minutes are a bit too many. Also, much of this stuff is adorned by wonderful Zappa solos - the man is in top form, and if you're hunting for Zappa solos, this is probably your best bet out of the three 1988 tour records. But these good sides don't compensate for the dreck - sorry, but I can't find another epithet for tracks like the lethargic 'Dupree's Paradise' or the above-mentioned 'Sinister Footwear' or the version here of 'Strictly Genteel', or, well, anything - even the best numbers have moments of boredom. Amidst the rest are stuffed two short excerpts from Stravinsky and Bartok, and it is said that these were too banned in Europe, just like his version of 'Bolero'. Well, all I can say is that the inheritors of Bartok and Stravinsky were pretty big-eared to discover these little tidbits, as they're buried so deeply in the midst of all the jazz filler you hardly notice them at all.

I guess it goes without saying that the record is padded out with loads of gimmicks - echos, special effects, good jokes, bad jokes, whatever; Frank even strews out references to the PMRC hearings - if it's been a long time since you heard Mothers Of Prevention, he'll remind you by inserting quotes like 'maybe I could become a good rock star' and 'outrageous filth' from you-know-where. Alas, none of these gimmicks really add to the feeling of desperate boredom that sets in almost from the very beginning. Then again, it's just me. I'm not a jazz fan. Then again, maybe it's just Frank and he's simply scraping the bottom of the barrel. I know which version I would prefer to believe. You?



Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

Frank goes avantgarde again, and the record, as such, nears unlistenable.


Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Dog Breath Variations; 3) Uncle Meat; 4) Outrage At Valdez; 5) Times Beach II; 6) III Revisited; 7) The Girl In The Magnesium Dress; 8) Be-Bop Tango; 9) Ruth Is Sleeping; 10) None Of The Above; 11) Pentagon Afternoon; 12) Questi Cazzi Di Piccione; 13) Times Beach III; 14) Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America; 15) Welcome To The United States; 16) Pound For A Brown; 17) Exercise # 4; 18) Get Whitey; 19) G-Spot Tornado.

Frank was already incurably ill by the time of the record's release, and he died only a few months after - in December 1993. But as much as I force myself to it, I simply can't imagine Shark as a fitting epitaph to Frank's career. Apparently, the record waxes a little nostalgic, as he returns to the very same ideas that he was always pushing forward in the Sixties. Remember the good old times when Frank and the Mothers used to rip it up on stage by pouring craploads of atonal avantgarde jazz onto the heads of the willing-to-take-it-all-and-more audiences? Well, the times have changed: in the Nineties, Frank preferred to hire an entire orchestra, the so-called 'Ensemble Modern', under the conductorship of Peter Rundel, to perform some instrumental versions of some old tunes and even more instrumental versions of new tunes - at least, that's my idea: I do not possess a large chunk of Frank's records (and neither do most people untouched by schizophrenia in this world), so I cannot guarantee that he wrote most of the 'tunes' specially for the record. As of now, though, I'm only able to recognize 'Uncle Meat' as an old tune, and some other numbers also come from the same album - 'Dog Breath Variations', for instance.

The biggest problem, however, is that listening to the album even once kills me. I am not, and never will be, a devoted fan of avantgarde classical music; it does nothing for me, and in fact, I have always suspected deep inside that avantgarde classical music was mainly due to people getting bored with the more traditional forms but not being able to produce anything better. So avantgarde fans please forgive me: if you dig Varese, you'll probably dig this record too. Me, I'm just bored to death and worse, and I haven't even mentioned yet that it goes on for over seventy minutes (damn the dratted CD format!) I mean, I really don't need to hear Rundel's orchestra trod its way through seventy minutes of clumsy, dissonant 'jamming', half of which sounds like somebody absent-mindedly banging on a piano and the other half sounds like the lengthy, careful tuning of an entire brass section (yeah, try to endure 'Times Beach II' once and you'll know what I mean - and I sat through it twice. Three times is more than I can take). Even the fact that most of the tracks are rather short, and there are enough breaks to catch your breath, does not save this record. Now sue me, and I'll smack you.

Out of the whole mess, only about a couple 'tunes' seem interesting at all. The version of 'Uncle Meat' presented here is, err, tolerable, at least as compared to the rest of this stuff (though nowhere near as good as the original), and the record ends on an upbeat note: the final 'G-Spot Tornado' is actually a real composition - a fast, almost dance-style groove where the orchestra finally starts playing music. I doubt, however, that many people have heard it, as you'd have to get through an entire hour of mess to get to it. Plus, there are moments - MOMENTS - which might be enjoyable if met in the context of some other album; thus, 'Ruth Is Sleeping' has some nice classical piano, but it goes on for far, far, far too long to enjoy it. And 'Welcome To The United States', where some gal reads the text of a customs declaration over 'musical' background, sounds like a good chance wasted to me.

Frank himself does nothing on the album - except for appearing on the front cover, which just goes to show his sad condition at the time, and a brief introduction where he presents Rundel to the audience. It's actually the funniest moment on the album - closing with the famous phrase 'and if you feel like throwing underpants onto the stage, put 'em over there...' Perhaps this is the main flaw of the album, in fact - there's no fun in it, not an ounce. When I think back and remind myself of similar soundmaking on albums like Ahead Of Their Time, I can't help realising how funny it was - the play, the show, the self-irony, the nihilism, and avantgarde as only a part of the whole package: an important one, but only a part anyway. Here, avantgarde becomes a purpose in itself, and a deadly one at that. Sure, I realize that the time was not particularly suited for humour, what with Frank's illness and all, but anyway, he could have done much, much better. What an awful shame that it had to be his last original release: it also had to be his worst record so far.

Again, though, I reiterate that if you're a big fan of THAT kind of 'music', you might consider it one of Frank's best. But no offense, if you really think so, you're groovy, man. I wonder what kind of audience attended the actual concert and what kinds of emotions prompted them to clap so hard? No, I'm just not fit for modern classical music. Crappy, crappy stuff.



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A beautiful testament to Frank's voluminous career, although it probably could have been even better.

Best song: too hard to choose, dude!

Track listing: 1) The Blackouts; 2) Lost In A Whirlpool; 3) Ronny Sings?; 4) Kenny's Booger Story; 5) Ronnie's Booger Story; 6) Mount St Mary's Concert Excerpt; 7) Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance; 8) Tiger Roach; 9) Run Home Slow Theme; 10) Fountain Of Love; 11) Run Home Cues #2; 12) Any Way The Wind Blows; 13) Run Home Cues #3; 14) Charva; 15) The Dick Kunc Story; 16) Wedding Dress Song; 17) Handsome Cabin Boy; 18) Cops & Buns; 19) The Big Squeeze; 20) I'm A Band Leader; 21) Alley Cat; 22) The Grand Wazoo; 23) Wonderful Wino; 24) Kung Fu; 25) RDNZL; 26) Basement Music # 1; 27) Inca Roads; 28) Lil' Clanton Shuffle; 29) I Don't Wanna Get Drafted; 30) Sharleena.

The first and, arguably, the best of Frank's posthumous archive releases is kinda brain-muddling at first listen, but extremely rewarding at the end. The closest analogy to this album I can think of are the Beatles' endless Anthology volumes; however, in a certain sense, Episodes seem to be better constructed and more acceptable to the casual listener. While the Anthologies focused mostly on previously released material, providing Beatles fans with frustratingly superficial and raw takes one-two-three, the bulk of the material on Episodes has never been released previously in any form, and even the tunes that have are often presented in equally acceptable, but totally different versions. Plus, while the dialogs on the Beatles' releases were inserted on the albums with the only purpose - to provide some historical background which everybody already knew, the dialogs here (and there are lots) are actually FUN! Take 'Cops & Buns', for instance, where Frank and the Mothers are in the process of debating with a pissed off policeman whether there is or there ain't too much noise in the studio and whether or not Frank had already been issued summons or not. Frank offers him a bun, of course.

Most of the material here (thirty tracks, give or take a few) dates back to the earliest period of Frank's career - the late Fifties and early Sixties, and, in fact, you'll be mighty surprised to learn that quite a lot of material that he released around 1966-68 actually dates back to a much earlier period. There is, for instance, a weird version of 'Any Way The Wind Blows', recorded at the very beginning of the Sixties with the use of an ear-destructive fuzz bass that gives me the creeps and the shudders each time I hear it. Perhaps the mumps, too, but I haven't checked yet... There's also an early version of 'Fountain Of Love', and a surprisingly well-recorded snippet of an early Mothers' performance, where they begin with one of their trademark avantgarde jazz freakouts ('Mount St Mary's Concert Excerpt') and then lead it into a very nice instrumental rendition of 'Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance'.

Quite a few of these early tunes feature Captain Beefheart, too, and some of his performances are friggin' funny - dang, for a 'freaky blues' tune like 'Lost In A Whirlpool' I'm even ready to forgive him the ruining of Bongo Fury. How would you like the lyrics 'There's a big brown fish looking at me/Ain't got no eyes - how could that motherfucker possibly see?/Ooh baby baby I'm gonna be afraid it gonna touch me'. If I'm not mistaken, that homemade recording dates back to the Fifties - now that's the earliest 'lyrical revolution' for ya! Plus, his ramblings on 'Tiger Roach' and 'Alley Cat' are equally hilarious. And what's that recital doing there, the one called 'I'm A Band Leader'? 'Not only can I drink a lot, but I also play 23 different instruments, and I don't even know how to read music.' Hmm, sounds familiar.

Other highlights include a great march-type instrumental ('Wedding Dress Song') with a fabulous glockenspiel workout by somebody among the Mothers, and 'Charva', a song that sounds like yet another Freak Out! outtake, as it totally fits the mood: a typical doo-wop melody, Frank's grizzly low voice, and lyrics that have nothing to do with doo-wop ('Charva, I love you, I love you through and through, I love you since in grammar school, When we were sniffing glue...').

As it progresses, however, it gets slightly less interesting: strange as it is, the later material doesn't hold up as well. I really hate 'The Grand Wazoo', for instance - and no, it does not have anything to do with the album itself, here it's just a bunch of atonal noises over which Beefheart reads some nonsense that ain't even funny. Of course, there's Ricky Lancelotti's frantic performance of 'Wonderful Wino' (somehow Frank ended up singing the song himself on Zoot Allures; I think he had to leave the chance to Lancelotti - the guy has the most unique vocals I ever heard in my life), and a good alternate version of 'I Don't Wanna Get Drafted', but mostly, it's just stuffed with instrumentals that range from more so-so avantgarde ('Kung Fu') to passable (the blues-rocky jam 'Lil' Clanton Shuffle') to just forgettable. To top it off, Frank (if it was indeed he who assembled this collection) tossed in a lengthy, eleven-minute-long version of 'Sharleena', the one that has it all: strong performance, great violin solo, a sharp and furious guitar assault in the best traditions, and 'the Zappa feel'. The performance is great, but my ears still get tired of it, and I don't really think the song presents a suitable ending.

In any case, this record is a definite must for any Zappa collection or collector - and not just as a priceless historical document (which it is), but simply as a very good album that's actually listenable from start to finish, unlike quite a few similar archive releases by other artists. No, don't expect it to get a perfect rating (a thing like that can't be perfect a priori), but an eight isn't that little, either. At least, that's what my opinion is. What's your opinion, dear Sir or Madam?


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