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Frank Zappa - Zoot Allures CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.74 | 387 ratings

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4 stars It's a low ****, but a **** rating nonetheless, and a pretty fun one at that. It's a far, far less "sophisticated" album than OSFA, but it's not hard to tell that that's exactly what Zappa wanted. The busy big-band jazz-prog overtones of the last couple of albums are almost completely gone; the instrumentation is very stripped-down, and almost all performed by Zappa himself (drums excepted). The hyperactive genre and society mockeries of yore also make a significant return, this time updated for the age of New Wave and the like. Not a lot of the individual songs stand out as classics, and in fact a good half of the album can be considered "slight" (which isn't the same as bad, mind you) by Zappa standards, but as a whole the album works.

Of the album's nine tracks, four stand out to me as Zappa classics. First is the opening "Wind up Working in a Gas Station," a "straightup" (haha) rocker that must have been a total shock to fans who were especially enamored of, say, "Inca Roads" from the year before. The base form of it may be different, though, but the hyper rhythm changes are totally familiar sounding; this may be Zappa taking on a "simpler" form, but he hasn't suddenly gone stupid, and the sense of disdain for "commoners" is still totally there (first line: "This here song might offend you some. If it does, it's because you're dumb."). On a broader level, this is the first serious manifestation of the approach that would dominate a good portion of You Are What You Is, and given how much I enjoy that album, this song can't help but give me a smile.

The second big highlight is the "epic" "The Torture Never Stops," which basically trumps every "shocking", decadent, Alice Cooper-style track made in the era. It was all I could do to not fall down laughing when I heard the first lines, "Flies all green and buzzin', in this dungeon of despair," delivered in an absolutely spot-on faux-sleazy manner that reduces all torture and S&M themes and practices to the goofiness they are. The seemingly endless female moans are a perfect icing on the cake; those sure don't sound like screams of agony to me! (The fact that these orgasmic noises are made by Zappa's wife makes it all the funnier). Is it overlong? Of course it's overlong! It's also thoroughly irreverant and genre- destroying; it's one of those instances where excessive length is a definite asset.

Anyway, the third significant highlight is the grumbly, intermittently rocking Wonderful Wino. Frank eschews singing for his creepy spoken mode a la "I'm the Slime," and it works in this case; I'm not sure any vocal melody would have been able to properly convey the gross nature of lines like, "I lost control of my body functions, on the road ahead at the ladies front lawn. I'm so ashamed, but I'm a wino man; I can't help myself." The fourth highlight, then, is a slam of the then upcoming disco culture, courtesy of the incredibly catchy "Disco Boy," complete with hilarious falsetto vocals in the chorus. It's all about a prototypical, brainless attendee of a disco club who has hopes of getting lucky and who totally strikes out. Check out this delightful line about the aftermath : "Disco Boy, no one understands, but thank THE LORD that you still got hands to help you do that jerkin' that'll blot out yer Disco Sorrow!" Welcome back, Frank, welcome back.

Of the remaining five, my favorite is probably "Find Her Finer," which seems to be about wrapping women up until you have your way with them (!!!), but the heavily distorted bassline of "Ms. Pinky" is kinda attractive (though there really isn't anything else interesting about the song), and the instrumental title track is pretty lovely (Frank's guitar has an awfully nice tone in that one). The (seemingly) lengthy wankfest "Black Napkins" could be done without (it's a rather dull "soulful" standard blues passage, with none of Frank's regular eccentricities), and while "Friendly Little Finger" is at least more energetic, it's so messy that I can't get into it.

Overall, then, there's a good amount of relatively non-descript stuff to be found, but most of it is quite tolerable, and the best stuff is a hoot. It's a slight tossoff for Frank, but it's an enjoyable one, and well worth a cheap pickup.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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