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


Frank Zappa



3.53 | 230 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Complete Work of Art

I'm a little frustrated by the lack of any biographical data behind the making of this album, apart from stories about the LSO sneaking off to the pub instead of rehearsing, Moon Unit's letter to daddy requesting an audition for the Valley Girl part, and Lisa Popiel's familial link to the Pocket Fisherman and Kitchen Magician.

So, here we go with an opinion piece - trying very hard to aviod the traps that reviewers can fall into; Finding "No, Not Now" irritating is surely to miss several points that Zappa intended us to catch; The clues must be in the lyrics - which I, for one, do not get entirely. For example, there is a reference to Donny and Marie (Osmond?) - "Can both take a bite" (a reference to the famous teeth and cheesey grins?), probably some innuendo (Bite it, Marie!), and the "Beans to Utah" is obviously a "Coals to Newcastle" reference. But without knowing these lyrical references it is difficult to come to any judgment other than the superficial "Sounds a bit repetitive", which may be true - but why?

We must remember that Zappa was first and foremost a composer, influenced by other serious composers, like Varese and Stockhausen. Unlike those composers, Zappa had a unique wit which is evident throughout his works - even the "serious" pieces. "Ship Arriving..." is a masterpiece in miniature, being around 35 minutes - but there is so much packed into those minutes that it is clear the music is but a reflection of the minimalist artwork on the cover - sharply angular, just a portion of Zappa, and a complete self-referential work.

It is widely known that "Valley Girl" was Frank's first and last hit single, featuring "Teenage Prostitute" as the flip side (vinyl singles were played both sides for the CD generation!). The reason for the pairing is obvious. The title track, "Envelopes" and "Teenage..." are blended as a single track - the only flaw IMO is that the two main guitar solos in the title track are slighty overlong and tend to meander around the same paths instead of developing. Again, maybe there is a deeper reason waiting to be found out.

"I Come From Nohere" is practically an introduction to "Valley Girl", although it appears afterwards sequentially on the album - and musically the two do flow well together. Maybe Zappa was just being obtuse - but who cares? This is an accessible introduction to Zappa, particularly for those who like their music on the heavier side with a large portion of funk, jazz and satire; and with Steve Vai serving up "Impossible guitar parts", you really can't go wrong. Think of David Lee Roth's "Skyscraper", but with braincells - Vai's profound influence is just as distinct on both albums.

Certif1ed | 5/5 |


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