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Frank Zappa - Bongo Fury CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.55 | 209 ratings

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3 stars I must confess that I don't really know that much about Captain Beefheart. I have a couple of his albums (as of this writing), but I rarely feel a desire to listen to Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), and as interesting as I find his reputed "masterpiece" Trout Mask Replica to be in theory, I've never actually managed to get through the entire thing in one sitting. I have read in a few places that the two albums Beefheart released before this live collaboration with Zappa are considered the weakest of his career, and that this was a generally low point for the Captain anyway and that I shouldn't judge him by this, but again, I don't know enough to confirm that for myself. All I know is that every time he sings or speaks on this album, my only desire is for him to SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP. From the first vocal lines of "Debra Kadabra," extending through the surrealistic "poetry" of "Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top" and "Man with the Woman Head," his spitting and grunting and "singing" show him doing everything he possibly can to render this album totally unlistenable.

It's amazing, then, that the rest of the album is good enough for me to give it a rating as high as I do. The Roxy band is still in prime form, but instead of continuing the exact same jazz-symph-rock motif of that album, the band takes a more blues-based approach here (not a bad thing for this group; "More Trouble Every Day" was amazing, after all). "Poofter's Froth Wyoming" is a neat little funny bluesy shuffle where Beefheart actually sounds passable in singing amusing lines about how, come 1976, people would be using the year (the 200th anniversary of the country, naturally) as an excuse to get people to buy lots of useless stuff (at least, that's how Frank introduces it). This breaks into the hardcore blues of "200 Years Old," with some terrific Beefheart harmonica and Zappa wailing on his guitar in a terrific gritty-yet-creative way.

Then, a couple of tracks later, we get an 11-minute bluesy wanking in "Advance Romance," which manages to rule due to everybody stretching themselves to make the sound as bizarre as possible without losing the "main" blues vibe. If you hate "generic" blues as a rule, this will probably drive you crazy at first; then again, if you don't notice after a while that this is some of the weirdest "generic" blues imaginable, you might be crazy already. And finally, the album ends on an extremely high note, as the "anthemic" "Muffin Man" throws in pseudo-vaudevillian keyboard lines under a fascinatingly bizarre Zappa monologue about the greatness of muffins ("...nothing so exalted on the face of God's grey earth as that prince of foods ... The Muffin!!!") that leads into a terrific grumbling riff augmented by some more great, great guitar lines.

Aside from the aforementioned Beefheart "vocal showcases," the album also contains a couple of decent low-key (and in the case of the former, occasionally beautiful) numbers, "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" and "Cucamonga," which aren't among Zappa's best work but hardly among his worst. So the ending breakdown is about 60% great, 25% ok and 15% unlistenable garbage, which translates to a "good but definitely not great" rating. It's recommendable overall, but definitely shouldn't be part of your initial wave of Zappa (or Beefheart, I'm betting) purchases.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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