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Frank Zappa - Chunga's Revenge CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.40 | 322 ratings

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3 stars This album marks the beginning of the "Flo and Eddie" period, where Frank brought in as lead vocalists two ex-Turtles who sound a lot worse in this context than they did singing Happy Together back in the day. This period is usually considered a low point in Frank's career, and with good cause (more on that in later reviews), but this album, undoubtedly the best of the four released in this period, at least has the goodness to not shove this lineup's weaknesses in the listener's face as much as the others do.

The thing that really jumps out at me about the album isn't so much the lineup, though, but rather that this seems like the first "lightweight" album Frank released in his career. It doesn't have a central "message" or any conceptual value (even Cruising had a "point" in Frank's overall scheme), it's not groundbreaking in the least, and extremely impressive displays of skill (like the best stuff on Sandwich) are nowhere to be found. A significant portion of the album is instrumental, as usual, but those tracks don't sound or feel as essential as, say, the best stuff on Hot Rats. And as for the sung tracks, well, Zappa didn't really seem to have any real ambition other than to sound kinda macho and dumb, and while that's pulled off fairly well, this hardly seems like a worthy goal of somebody who'd led the Mothers to such interesting heights in recent years.

That said, I'm hardly opposed in principle to a lightweight Zappa album; it at least guarantees that there won't be any hard-to-listen-to moments like the most abrasive passages on Weasels. Of course, the instrumental tracks aren't always that interesting either; "The Nancy and Mary Music," for instance, spends way too much time staying away from decent jazzy guitar noodling and hitting us with an overlong drum solo (though this is somewhat redeemed by an amusing "scat vocal percussion" solo near the end), and the title track, while basically pleasant, is also basically directionless to my ears. On the other hand, though, the opening "Transylvania Boogie" entertains me completely, as it's full of sharp, angry guitar tones in the first half (with lots of complicated jazzy rhythms) and equally piercing tones (with a bluesy rhythm) in the second (the guitar passages themselves are awesome throughout the track as well). "Twenty Small Cigars" gives a nice (if brief) dose of jazzy guitar and harpsichord interplay, and "The Clap" is, of all things, a parody of a drum solo (bashing around on a wood block over regular drums). In total, then, the instrumental tracks, while not amazing overall, are definitely worth some listens.

The vocal tracks, similarly, range between kinda weak and an awful lot of fun. The best of these is the ridiculously over-the-top macho blues-rock of "Tell Me You Love Me," featuring Zappa playing porno-wah over a mid-tempo stomping Sabbath-quality riff while Flo and Eddie scream their heads off (with an occasional foray into silly falsetto "'Cos I gotta make love with you" lines). The disturbingly catchy "Would You Go All the Way?" (which, unfortunately, seems to be about US servicemen seeking out sexual pleasure with USO women) and closing "Sharleena" (a sorta doowop and R'n'B cross) also work pretty well (and Sharleena has a pretty unexpected melody twist in the middle), even if they could probably do with some better vocals. On the minus side, "Road Ladies" is just a bit too predictable of an organy soul-blues tune about groupies for my tastes, and "Rudy Wants to Buy You a Drink" (about the musician's trade unions) just doesn't work for me on either on a song or humor level.

So that's the first album that clearly marks the "post-Mothers" area of Zappa's career, and while I can see why he started to lose fans with this, it's nothing close to a terrible transition. It's hardly essential, but if you really fancy yourself as a Zappa historian, you should definitely pick it up. Unlike, say, the next album.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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