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

THE MAN FROM UTOPIA

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.14 | 161 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
2 stars This album marks the exact point where Frank completely stopped being a cutting-edge revolutionary and became a dirty old man. Somehow, hearing Frank open an album with songs about drugs ("Cocaine Decisions") and sex ("Sex") feels too much like him grasping at straws to stay relevant and 'shocking' and all that rot. These two songs aren't bad, as the former has a satisfying guitar sound and the latter has a decent riff (and its own satisfying guitar parts), but hearing Frank go "the bigger the cushion, the better the pushin'" over and over just doesn't work after hearing the glorious Puritan sensibility-tweaking of Joe's Garage and Sheik Yerbouti. Plus, Frank doesn't sound very comfortable with electronic percussion here, as he tries to use them in an identical way to how he used regular drums but that just makes the sound uncomfortably dated.

The main problem with the album, though, comes from three tracks that are among the very worst Frank had committed to tape to that point. "The Radio is Broken," "The Dangerous Kitchen" and ESPECIALLY "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats" all fall into the same category as the worst stuff on Tinseltown; Frank 'crooning' lyrics (some gross, some pointless) off-key while his backing band engages in a seemingly melodyless, directionless 'jam' that just goes NOWHERE. These three tracks combine for about fifteen minutes, and they absolutely destroy what would (despite many other weaknesses) be a mildly ok album.

On the plus side, the instrumentals, while kinda similar to stuff he'd already done, are quite good on the whole. The closing "Moggio" sounds an awful lot like an Uncle Meat outtake with 80's production, and that's not a bad thing, while "Tink Walks Amok" (a solid guitar-line with entertaining basslines and effective drumming that would have fit in well early on You Are What You Is) and especially "We Are Not Alone" (driven by a nice saxophone line and featuring a lot of cool vibe or xylophone parts) all measure up to Frank's usual standards of the past decade, and they help the rating quite a bit. Of the remaining regular songs, "Stick Together" is an extremely dull piece of light reggae, but "Mary Lou Meets the Man From Utopia" is a fun update/reimagining of the rockabilly standard "Hello Mary Lou," at least if you can tolerate the idea of 50's rock with 80's drums (which I can). And, well, I can't get myself to totally hate the bonus track "Luigi and the Wise Guys;" it's amusing to me to hear Frank making a sucessful lampoon of doo wop again, as the entire track is a ridiculous set of generic doo wop vocals singing the dumbest lyrics imaginable. Sure it's a throwaway, but there have been worse throwaways.

And unfortunately that's it. This is a very short album, much of which sucks, and pretty much none of it suggests the 'necessity' of Frank Zappa in the world of rock music at this point. The better tracks should probably be heard at some point, but if you can't hear them without having to subject yourself to the worst stuff here, you should move on.

tarkus1980 | 2/5 |

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