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Frank Zappa - Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.53 | 231 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars I can't help it; the album cover totally cracks me up. I never bothered to look closely at it until I started listening to this album intensely, but I laughed like hell once I got the joke, and I still giggle when I think about it. Who'd think such an effective image could be made with a box and four lines?

Great cover or no, though, this is a major step down from You Are What You Is, and it very much feels like a relative throwaway. It's a half-live, half-studio single album, boasting but six tracks, and it only lasts a little more than half an hour. More bothersome than the brevity, though, is that a lot of the album sounds confused and aimless, even if the tracks on the whole are still decent. Obviously Frank couldn't just go and make a clone of You Are..., but he might have been better served by waiting a bit before issuing a followup. This album strongly insinuates that the quality of You Are was a bit of a fluke, and that the 80's wouldn't be as good of a decade for him as the 70's were.

The studio side is highlighted by "Valley Girl," which would go down as a rather simplistic rocker were it not for a guest appearance by Frank's daughter Moon Unit, who absolutely steals the show. Her spoken imitation of a valley girl from Encino, filled with stereotypical mannerisms and phrases, mixed in with hilarious side-tracks about perverts approaching her and her ultra-gay teacher, are a total laugh riot, and the way she obviously relishes every moment makes it only more delightful. Oddly enough, this ended up being a minor-hit single for Frank, marking one of the least likely re-emergences of an artist into mainstream culture I can think of. Unfortunately, the tracks that bookend it, while showing some promise, are noticably less entertaining. "No Not Now" has an amusing high/low vocal dynamic, almost reminiscient of 60's Beach Boys, but this song would have been much better at three minutes instead of six. "I Come From Nowhere" has a neat, often fascinating instrumental backing, but the vocals just don't work in this case. I guess that having the vocalist sing in a way that doesn't work with the rest of the song was something Frank intended, but it's not one of the best ideas he ever had. Needless to say, this song doesn't work at six minutes either.

The live side is also rather uneven. I am very fond of the closing "Teenage Prostitute," where Frank has a man and woman belt out the lyrics in a fast operatic style, over a melody driven as much by xylophone as by guitar and the 80's synths. The immediately preceeding "Envelopes," though, does nothing but take up space; the busy chord and rhythm changes do nothing to keep me interested in this case. And finally, the twelve- minute title track starts off as an amusing story, and quickly morphs into a multi-part, complicated-sounding suite that sounds ... okayish. I mean, it's passable as background noise, but I've already heard enough okayish background noise passages from Frank to last me a lifetime. This doesn't even remotely measure up to something like "The Gumbo Variations," and I'm not an enormous fan of that one either (though obviously I do like it).

In the end, this pretty much defines "middle of the pack" for Zappa albums. It's good, with nothing overtly offensive about it, but except for a couple of tracks, it doesn't even remotely reach greatness either. If you can get it cheap, pick it up for "Valley Girl" and "Teenage Prostitute," but don't break a sweat looking for it.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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