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Frank Zappa - Läther CD (album) cover

LÄTHER

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.92 | 135 ratings

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UMUR
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Läther is a 3 CD album set released in 1996 by American experimental rock artist Frank Zappa. The album was originally intented to be released as a 4 LP box-set in 1977, but Zappa´s record company at the time Warner Bros. Records refused to release Läther. Supposedly because they had doubts about the commercial potential of the project. Frank Zappa asked to be released from his contract to the record company in order to release the box-set as he intented it to sound, but unfortunately for him he had already delivered the box-set to Warner Bros. Records and as his contract with the record company was still four albums short of fulfillment he was forced to edit the Läther box-set into four individual albums. So most of the material on Studio Tan (1978), Sleep Dirt (1979), Orchestral Favorites (1979) and Zappa in New York (1978) originally comes from Läther. It should be noted here that this is Gail Zappa´s version of the story and others claim that the individual albums were made as individual albums and then later put together by Zappa to form Läther. There are also songs on Läther that would appear in other versions on Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Joe's Garage (1979) and Tinsel Town Rebellion (1981). Frank Zappa had a major dispute with Warner Bros. Records over this matter and that´s why the material on the four albums only appeared in 1978 and 1979 even though Zappa had delivered Läther to the record company in late 1976. He was so frustrated with the situation that he actually played the whole Läther box-set on Pasadena's KROQ radio station and instructing listeners to record it in December 1977. Therefore bootlegs of the box-set have been circulating and was until the release of the Rykodisc 3 CD box-set the only way you had a chance to hear Läther.

While most of the material were released on the four above mentioned albums most of the Läther versions of the songs differ a bit from the versions on the individual albums and therefore Läther is still a worthwile purchase for those who already have the individual albums. Many of the songs are also linked with snippets of mad talking and strange sound experiments in the same style as on Lumpy Gravy (1968) and as the songs appear in a different order and in another context than on the individual albums this gives the listener a very different listening experience. The songs are a mix of live and studio recordings as usual.

Disc 1:

Disc 1 starts with Re-gyptian strut which is a bombastic instrumental song and a great way to start the the album. After this song we´re treated with both avant garde classical music in Naval Aviation In Art?, silly ( sophisticated as always of course) pop songs like A Little Green Rosetta and For the Young Sophisticate as well as some great guitar soloing ( on top of what sounds like the Whole Lotta Love riff by Led Zeppelin) by Zappa in Duck Duck Goose ( which also contains a sound experiment section and an avant garde classical part) and a nice little instrumental in Down in the Dew. The hilarious and very sexually oriented songs Tryin' To Grow A Chin and Broken Hearts Are For Assholes are up next. Both telling stories of the various griefs and challenges of social interactions between humans. both songs would appear in other versions on Sheik Yerbouti. The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit which would later appear on Zappa in New York shortened to The Illinois Enema Bandit is next. The great Ray White shines here with his elastic vocal performance and that guitar solo by Zappa is excellent stuff. This version is is different to the version that would appear on Zappa in New York but only slightly. The song has some of the most controversial and often critizised lyrics Zappa ever wrote. The three next songs Lemme Take You To The Beach, Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra and RDNZL made out side 2 of the original LP release of Studio Tan (1978) and appear here in the same order as on the LP. The CD re-release of Studio Tan has another song order. Lemme Take You To The Beach is just a great fun surf-rock song. Fast paced and with some hilarious high pitched vocals curtesy of Davey Moire. Eddie Jobson ( Curved Air, Roxy Music, UK, Jethro Tull) also appear on this song with his futuristic keyboards approach. Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra was never my favorite song from Zappa. I never really felt that the mix of classical music and rock worked that well in this song. It´s not bad though. The instrumental RDNZL is a great closer to disc 1 but this studio version is not up to par with earlier and later live versions of the song IMO.

Disc 2:

Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me? starts disc 2. It´s an absolutely hilarious song about social behaviour on a date. Lots of little quirky instrumental moments in this song in addition to the funny lyrics. The Black Page #1 ( this is the version Zappa refers to as the teen-age version on Zappa in New York) is next. This is a 2 minute studio version. It´s really nice finally to be able to hear this extremely challenging instrumental in a studio version. Up until the release of Läther, The Black Page had only appeared in live versions. Big Leg Emma is a short live r´n´b track which also appeared on Zappa in New York. Punky's Whips was censored by Warner Bros. Records and removed from Zappa in New York shortly after it´s original release. It has since been restored and appear on the CD version ( as well as newer LP versions) of that album. Here on Läther it appears in a seemingly similar version as the one on the CD version of Zappa in New York. The sound is a bit different though. But don´t shoot me here I´m not sure. Flambé which would be re-named Flambay on the Sleep Dirt appears on Läther in a short 2 minute long version. The version on Sleep Dirt is almost 5 minues long. The Purple Lagoon starts with the Approximate instrumental track but most of the song consists of soloing by sax and guitar. It´s a rather avant garde/ jamming live song and has a total playing time of 16:20 minutes. It´s not my personal favorite but those who seek adventurous playing and sound should be able to find enjoyment here. The musicianship on this track is excellent. Pedro's Dowry also appear on the Orchestral Favorites album and is classical music piece. Läther which is called I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth on Zappa in New York appears in the exact same version on both albums just with different titles. Great little instrumental track that one IMO. Spider Of Destiny is an instrumental track which appear here in the same version as it appeared on the original LP version of Sleep Dirt ( the CD version has added female vocals). Duke Of Orchestral Prunes ends disc 2. A great orchestral version of that song. To my ears this version sounds similar to the version that appears on Orchestral Favorites.

Disc 3:

Filthy Habits which shows Zappa´s skills with feed-back is one of my all time favorite tracks from him. A dark and menacing instrumental track. Titties 'n Beer which is a hilarious song where Zappa and Terry Bozzio interact in a story about the devil, Titties, beer and pickles ( you figure it out). Titties 'n Beer appears on Läther in the same short version as the version on the original LP version of Zappa in New York. The version on the CD version of Zappa in New York is almost 2 minutes longer. The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution was originally released on Sleep Dirt in a 13:18 minute long version but appears here in a shorter edited 8:31 minute version. It´s a bit of a shame that this great instrumental is edited like that. I like the original version better. The Adventures Of Greggery Peccery is a fantastic 20:56 minute long track. A mix between rock and classical music with added cartoon like story telling and singing. Not only is this great fun. It´s also a challenging listen and note the conceptual continuity in that song ( Billy the Mountain). This is where the original version of Läther was supposed to end but the 3 CD Rykodisc version has 4 added bonus tracks. Regyptian Strut (1993), Leather Goods, Revenge Of The Knick-Knack People and Time Is Money. Regyptian Strut (1993) has re-recorded drums and a different mix. Leather Goods is one of Zappa´s improvised live solos. It ends with the guitar solo section from Duck Duck Goose. Revenge Of The Knick-Knack People is a short avant garde piece while Time Is Money appears to be in the same version as the one of the original LP release of Sleep Dirt.

Conclusion

Läther is an excellent collection of Frank Zappa´s mid- to late seventies output and it could be a great place to start for the curious new listener as almost every style that Zappa played are represented here. Some might find it a bit too diverse though. I think Läther holds great value for both fans and the more casual listener and fully deserves a 4 star rating. The quality of material, musicianship and production is top notch. Don´t despair if you already own the albums I mentioned in the beginning of the review. As I also pointed out most of the songs appear here in slightly different versions than on the individual albums and that fact in addition to the fact the versions of the songs from Sleep Dirt which appear on Läther does not include the added female vocals from the Rykodisc CD re-issue ( the original LP release of that album did not include vocals) should make Läther a worthwile purchase even though you own the individual albums. Especially if you only own the CD versions of said albums.

UMUR | 4/5 |

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