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Frank Zappa - You Are What You Is CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.65 | 304 ratings

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4 stars While my Frank Zappa collection spans all of his major eras, 1981's YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS just might be my overall favourite. Much in the style of JOE'S GARAGE and SHEIK YERBOUTI, this superb effort surpasses even those latter-day classics in terms of polish, consistency, and the force of its message. As an earlier reviewer has noted, fabulous vocal arrangements of Frank's hilarious, sarcastic lyrics are front and center here, and they are accompanied by very tight, up-tempo music that is all over the map stylistically.

Regarding the lyrics, let the reader beware: There is something here to offend just about everybody -- these are extremely politically-incorrect songs! If, however, you are already familiar with Zappa's music and worldview, prepare yourself for 20 great, delightfully-diverse ditties that skewer various aspects of modern American culture. Themes include whining, glue-sniffing teenage Grateful Dead fans; country music infidelity; a Goblin girl; the fashion industry; drug abuse; coneheads; culturally-confused blacks and whites; the national propensity to obesity; shallow dance club amorality; corrupt right-wing "born again" televangelists; the hypocrisy and clash of world religions; suicide; the potential costs of lowering your sexual standards; and the prospect of a female draft into the US army! Great songs are too many to list, but the ones that treat with religion are particularly strong, with some of Zappa's most cutting and witty observations ever. To quote too extensively here could well prove offensive to casual readers, so I give you these few lines from "Dumb All Over," which neatly sum up Frank's main point:

"You can't run a country by a book of religion / Not by a heap or a lump or a smidgeon / Of foolish rules of ancient date / Designed to make you all feel great / While you fold, spindle and mutilate / Those unbelievers from a neighbouring state."

Viewed in the context of America's ongoing military presence in the Middle East, this powerful and disquieting song sounds almost prescient today, and is decidedly NOT to all tastes!

Chances are though, if you're reading this review, that you already expect (and even -- GASP-- enjoy!) such shenanigans from Frank and his extensive cast of vocal acrobats and musical all-stars. YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS is not an album for the fanatically, unquestioningly religious/dogmatic, or those who are easily offended. It is, however, a highly entertaining and thought-provoking modern melding of music, humour, and free speech. An absolute MUST for Zappa's legion of fans!

Peter | 4/5 |


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