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Frank Zappa - Sleep Dirt CD (album) cover

SLEEP DIRT

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.59 | 186 ratings

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LiquidEternity
Prog Reviewer
4 stars A mostly instrumental album that attempts to be in the vein of Hot Rats and The Grand Wazoo, Sleep Dirt seems more an attempt by Frank to get away from the commercialism that was starting to claim all of his writing.

Its positioning in the (previously) pipe-dream album Lather marks it as part of Zappa's last stand for longer tunes, more progressive styles, thicker sounds, unique orchestration, and a lack of long-winded vocal pieces about creepy and dirty things that Frank found funny. The album almost has a flow to it, which is usually not a trademark of Zappa music, but here he almost crafts and album that can truly stand together as a unit greater than its parts. The greatest struggle this album has, though, is the female vocalist who wails and croons like a lounge singer for a good portion of her contribution to the album. She is not particularly interesting at first, but is certainly quite talented, but over the course of the album, we begin to understand why Zappa gave her all the vocal parts on this release. This album really has some fun with her wide range of talents, if you'll just listen to her and give her a chance. None of the songs save maybe the first one really stand on their own at all, but an album that flows together is kind of a fun change in pace for Frank, so the album is certainly not a loss.

Filthy Habits is the opening instrumental, a catchy bass-driven track with one of Frank's strongest guitar solos in the center. A lot of exotic musical elements give this song something of a Middle Eastern flair, though not quite exactly--especially not with the pervasive distorted guitar work. In some ways, this is the highlight of the album, as the band sounds the tightest and most creatively together here. Flambay introduces Thana on the vocals, wailing away about some sort of slight from a lover (or perhaps something else; you never know with Frank). It sounds more like a long segue track with a vocal layer over it rather than a song with purpose or direction. Spider of Destiny is a direct continuation of of Flambay. The pace picks up, the guitar takes a more frontal role, and a vocal melody comes in that actually stands as a catchy piece to sing along with. The final twenty seconds or so feature some terrifyingly neat vocal parts, though, and then the song turns to the instrumental Regyptian Strut, a popular Zappa live tune. It kicks off with an epic sort of feel, quickly turning to a more Mothersy sort of vibe (complete with Ruth doing her xylophone deal, too): all in all a much more classic Zappa tune, and a very fun listen with an inevitable Egyptian tone to it.

Side two opens up then with Time Is Money, bringing the return of Thana, wailing away with a catchy tune again a la Spider of Destiny. Her abilities get stretched and tested with some particularly difficult vocal pieces, turning what could be an average instrumental track into almost a contest of stump the talented chick. A short pause brings Sleep Dirt, an acoustic instrumental with Frank laying down some folksy blues in a way that the man basically never did before or after. On the footsteps of this comes the wild The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution, a long Grand Wazoo sort of track with that wonderful Zappa clean guitar sound. Right from the get-go, difficult bass lines and oddly syncopated guitar chords turn this track into a devilish whirlwind of some kind of insanity. Absolute brilliance, especially when paying attention to Bozzio's nearly impossible drumming and some intense bass guitar work. Some say Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is Zappa's most complicated song, but I believe this one is a mighty rival to this claim. Halfway through, a distorted guitar kicks in for a long-range solo, giving Frank the room to shred and tear in another example of why we should really consider this man one of the greatest guitarists in rock history. And what's more, we get a lot of double bass drumming here, something not common in Zappa's music--an added bonus. Look what Bozzio can do, too! With the guitar still in the lead, the song evolves further into more complexity and massive amounts of layers, closing the album off with a bang.

In short, if instrumental Zappa appeals to you, or if you like to listen to the man making his musicians jump through hoops just for fun, this album is a good bet. Certainly go for Hot Rats or The Grand Wazoo first, but if those appeal to you, this is the high point of the four Lather albums.

LiquidEternity | 4/5 |

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