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Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage, Acts I, II & III CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.77 | 142 ratings

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4 stars I think the biggest overall factor that makes me enjoy this album more than Sheik Yerbouti is that Frank doesn't pull any punches here. This album has a reputation of being the most morally offensive album Frank ever made (though I guess the later Thing Fish could give it a run for its money in that department), but what really makes the offensiveness work for me is the over-the-top context in which it's presented. The story manages to work both as a raving paranoid left-wing cautionary tale (what with all the Big Brother elements of music getting banned for the moral good of the nation) and as a raving paranoid right-wing cautionary tale of the "moral dangers" of a life heavily steeped in rock music (often reading like a Jack Chick tract gone berzerk), and the sexual elements accompanying the latter descend into "total ridiculousness" so thoroughly that I can't help but giggle the whole time. The whole thing is offensive in such a cartoonish way that it makes me lament the state of the human mind that this became such a lightning rod for groups like the PMRC; there is an overwhelming feel of "if you're completely mortified by this, you're only proving my point" throughout, and the fact that so many take the cop-out route in reacting to this bugs the hell out of me.

That said, there is a bit of a problem with the whole thing, namely that it's more than a bit musically thin. As you probably know, this was, in total, a triple album (and this just months after releasing a double with Sheik Yerbouti!); Act I was released on its own as a single LP, while Acts II & III were released three months later as a double LP (it's all together now as a 2-CD release, thankfully). As you might guess, Frank didn't have a triple-album's worth of solid tunes lying around in wait for use on this album, and the inevitable result is that large portions of the album break down into standard opera- style singing dialogue or the voice of the "narrator," The Central Scrutinizer (Zappa whispering into a megaphone) piping in with plot exposition. Plus, the whole of Act III largely abandons the overall storyline in favor of long guitar and keyboard wanks (not all of them are a negative, though; see below), reducing the "conventional" music value of the whole even further. Once again, though, I find myself much less concerned with the song quality than with the overall entertainment value of this "rock opera," which manages to be very very high as a whole.

There are some individual tracks that definitely deserve a mention as being, at the very least, minor Zappa classics. The title track is a very warm, nostalgic 'ditty' about Joe, the garage band of his youth, and the way they played the same tune over and over and caused his mother to call the cops on him. Much later and much more ridiculous is "Stick it Out," which, among other things, includes a callback to the monologue at the end of Dancing Fool (this time delivered by a robot, hehehehe) and has the most hilariously memorable "chorus" on the album ("Don't get no jizz upon that sofa sofa!"). The music manages to sound mechanical in a way that totally matches the fact that many of the lyrics are delivered in German, but it's mechanical in a way that still manages to be bouncy and dancable in a stereotypical Krautastic manner, which I'm betting was the whole point.

From a pure musical standpoint, there is one track that I've found tends to get overlooked, much because it's part of the general noodlefest that is Act III. Before fully surrendering himself to the totalitarian world into which he's emerged after leaving prison, Joe allows himself one last indulgence in dreaming one last imaginary guitar solo, and the solo performed by Frank in this track ("Watermelon in Easter Hay") is everything I'd want such a guitar passage to sound like. It's SOOOOOOOOOO BEAUTIFUL; the tone is dreamy and echoey, every note drips with a mix of sadness and longing, on one hand, and joy and gratitude for a life's worth of musical memories, on the other, and the length doesn't bother me one bit. I'm sure Zappa was trying to make a mockery of "heavenly" guitar solos with this passage, not intending this in the least as an earnest expression of emotion, but I don't really care; it may be a parody of gorgeousness, but it's still gorgeous.

Anyway, there are a lot of other little bits that jump out during a listen to this monster. "Catholic Girls" is a bouncy piece of slightly jazzy pop, "Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt" starts off as funny disco-pop before turning into a hilarious stretch of dialogue in which Joe's erstwhile girlfriend competes for $50 in, well, a wet t-shirt contest, "Sy Borg" is full of HILARIOUS dialogue (with some funny musical jokes too; "You're plookin' too hard, plookin' too hard on meeeeeeeee" kills me every time), and ... well, there's a lot of funny bits. Things sag a bit in the second half, yes, but it's listenable and fun (in Act II) and full of decent wanking (and occasional moments of beauty) in Act III, so it's hardly a serious letdown.

In the end, this gets a very hearty recommendation from yours truly. It's hardly one of Zappa's most "impressive" albums, but it's definitely one of his more entertaining ones, and that's enough for me. Among Zappa's releases from the second half of the 1970's, this should be one of the first stops.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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