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Frank Zappa - The Man From Utopia CD (album) cover

THE MAN FROM UTOPIA

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.15 | 252 ratings

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Deatheagle
3 stars This album came out the year I was born. I got into Zappa when I was about 14 or so, but this is an album I always passed up at the cd stores of my youth, and only recently really sat down and listened to. I've heard that this is one of Zappa's least recommended and liked albums among fans of his work. Now I haven't heard every single Zappa album, yet, but what I can firmly state is that this is a good album, if a bit disconnected in the sum of it's parts. The album is host to straight up rock songs, little musical ditties you can tap your foot to, and some strange experiments with spoken word and musical accompaniment. There's a little bit of everything, minus orchestral music, from Zappa's musical sensibility. Over all the album is pretty easy listening, other than some of the lyrical content; and specifically, the tracks The Dangerous Kitchen, The Radio Is Broken, and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats, which are the strange vocal/music songs I spoke of previously. While the playing on these three tracks is, as always, superb; the vocals are actually a bit irritating, being sung in very silly tones of voices, as was common with Zappa; or sung in a very strange speaking manner where all of the words seem to flow together in an almost drunkish sort of way, which was unique to those two tracks, TDK and TJDPH. Usually this doesn't bother me in his work, but these three tracks in particular were, well, a little bit annoying to listen to, if not funny at the same time. The album has a couple of live tracks with overdubbing, but is mostly pristine, almost sterile sounding in its production. Let's get into the songs a little bit more though.

The album starts with the track Cocaine Decisions. It's a fun sounding track with a very un-fun subject. It's about cocaine using business men who are kind of skeezy people, who according to Zappa, control our lives and are completely out of touch with the despair they bring about in the lives of their fellow humans. The music is very fun though, almost pretty at times with the piano sprinkles throughout. Overall, I enjoy this song, even though its a bit depressing. Doesn't make me want cocaine, that's for sure.

Track two is another fun song with some lyrical undertones to it as well, SEX. It seems that Zappa views sex as just another part of life, and urges the listener to accept it in their own lives, even if they are religious or otherwise frigid. The music is straight up rock, with a reggea-ish chorus. A funny song with a strong message underneath, albeit conveyed in kind of a silly way; Zappa's specialty. A good, funny song. I wonder if this is where the phrase "the bigger the cushion, the better the pushin' originated from.

This is the track Tink Walks Amok. I don't know what the title references, but it is an interesting track built around the bass guitar. It's a good instrumental track, and easy to bob your head to, even as progressive as the plying on it is. It almost sounds like 80's era King Crimson at times. Another good track.

Now here's where things get a little weird, with The Radio is Broken. The playing is frenetic and all over the place in this song, and the vocals, part spoken, part sung, are in the forefront. It's a story about someone at the movies, and the movie is described in detail. It has breaks with a little musical breakdown of a repeating phrase, then goes back into the vocals. Zappa can be heard trying not to break out into all out laughter on this track, so they obviously had fun making it. The thing is, the vocals are so overdone and silly, that it's a bit hard to listen to, at first at least. The song is not very melodic at all. He also says the phrase "space war" which to me seems like a reference to Star Wars, which was hugely popular back in the early 80's, maybe more so than it is even now. It has some silly sex jokes about alien women reproducing with Earth men, Zappa always being one to bring up strange sexual things in his music. Overall the music is very disjointed and the vocals are way out there, rendering this track just a little bit irritating to listen to. Not a favorite of mine.

The next track is a return to form, the fabulous We Are Not Alone. It is driven by a saxophone part that is pretty groovy, and an upbeat tempo. It has an almost "Mexican" feel to it to me for some reason. I don't know maybe not Mexican, but certainly a little exotic. Its a really fun track and is easy listening. Some people might not believe this is Zappa if you told them because its so toothless as compared to most of his music. I like it. Great, tight playing on this track.

Now back to the weirdness. Out of the three spoken word tracks, this is the least offensive to the ears. This is one of two songs where the guitar was overdubbed to perfectly match every syllable of the spoken word lyrics, done by Steve Vai. The lyrics are basically just describing a very dirty kitchen. I have seen kitchens like this, and it really is this unpleasant. Overall the song is just a silly little ramble about some gross stuff, and doesn't really have any redeeming qualities other than it isn't totally offensive to the listener with its music. Its alright.

The next song is a cover of a couple of songs from the 50's, The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou. Its a fun song that harkens back to Cruising With Ruben and The Jets, though much more musically embellished. I love the chorus of the Mary Lou section where he says she stole his watch and chain, etc. A really fun song with some great playing and singing. Really enjoy this one a lot.

Next we the track Stick Together, a reggae vamp that stays the same pretty much throughout musically, and is an attack on workers unions, which Frank seemed to be a little paranoid about. He was paranoid about any institution really, so this isn't a big surprise. While this version is good, the version on YCDTOSA Vol. 4 is better, in my opinion. It's another fun sounding track with a darker, though hopeful, message. A good track.

Next we have The Jazz Discharge Party Hats. This song is disgusting, even for someone who grew up on South Park. It's another track where Steve Vai mimics the spoken word of Frank. It's very similar to The Dangerous Kitchen, but the subject matter makes it a lot less listenable. It's about band members sniffing girl's underwear and wearing it as party hats, and the way it describes the underwear is really gross. This is the worst of the three spoken word tracks from this album, but I guess Frank thought we could take it if we made it this far into the album. I really don't like this "song". Its gross and unpleasant to listen to musically. Zappa was always experimenting, and while most of the time it was interesting, in this case it falls a bit flat.

The next track is Luigi and the Wise Guys. This is a song that is done acapella in a doo wop style. It's serviceable, but nothing great. It has very high pitched falestto vocals by Roy Estrada. He did this in a lot of Zappa's music, but here is it so overdone that I can't even understand what he is saying, and don't care to look up the lyrics honestly, as the track just isn't that compelling for me personally. This song is just alright in my book.

The final track is the song Moggio, an instrumental that sounds a lot like Zappa's mid 70's output; like it could have been on Lather or the Roxy albums. The track is led by the xylophone, and navigates through some tough musical waters, as Zappa was known to employ. Overall its a good track, some might even say great. For me it's ok, but nothing I would listen to over and over again. A good track, if a bit all over the place.

In conclusion, this album has some really good stuff, and some really bad stuff; but I would say that the good of the album ALMOST makes up for the bad. I wouldn't call this one of his worst albums, like I would Orchestral Favorites. While challenging in places, its well worth a good listen, and some of the tracks are definitely worth returning to. I give this album a 3 out of 5.

Note: this review is based off of the version on the Frank Zappa youtube page. Track listing may vary from version to version, so if the track listing order doesn't make sense to you, that is why.

Deatheagle | 3/5 |

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