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Frank Zappa - Thing-Fish CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



2.38 | 144 ratings

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1 stars I have to give Zappa credit: I now know what it takes to turn me into a raging Puritan. It takes moments like hearing Terry Bozzio yelling out, "Hurt me, OB'DEWLLA! Make me whimper and beg for your tiny rubber love!"

I will admit that, when I think about what's accomplished with this album without thinking about actually listening to it, this album impresses me pretty well. It takes the form of a parody on Broadway musicals (Frank originally intended it to be a real production, but it was never performed in full until well after he died), starring the victims of government experiments to try and get rid of "highly rhythmic individuals and sissy boys." Thing Fish, voiced by Ike Willis (a Zappa regular) is one of these victims, and like all of them (the others, also part of the play, are called the Mammy Nuns) he ends up with a potato for a head, a duck bill for a mouth and wears an Aunt Jemima type dress. Two yuppies from Long Island, Harry (voiced by Terry Bozzio) and Rhonda (voiced by Dale Bozzio), come to the show expecting a generic razzle-dazzle Broadway production and unwittingly become part of the cast. Eventually, Harry as a young boy comes out on stage; Harry is revealed to be gay (for business purposes); Harry reveals his contempt for liberated women and women in the workforce; Harry falls in love with a robot version of Rhonda (Artificial Rhonda); Harry has a child (of sorts) with Artificial Rhonda; Harry dresses in bondage clothing and has lots of sex with one of the rubberized Mammy Nuns; Rhonda repeatedly has sex with her briefcase to get back at Harry. The end. No wonder the story of this album ended up as a featured article in Hustler.

It's hard to imagine a more vicious satire on yuppie culture than what happens on this album (that isn't to say it's all that successful, but it sure is intense). This album drew a lot of complaints for having excessive racist overtones, but I can't buy that; Willis' depiction of Thing Fish was little more than a faithful imitation of the Kingfish character from Amos and Andy, and this album really seems to make fun of racism in much the same way the movie Blazing Saddles did a decade previous. Plus, the album has a few really brilliant lines: it's hard to choose, but I think my favorite is when Rhonda goes on the following rant: "This is SYMBOLISM, Harry! Really DEEP, INTENSE, THOUGHT-PROVOKING BROADWAY SYMBOLISM! This isn't DREAM GIRLS, Harry! This is the way it REALLY IS ..." I'm also fond of when Harry pulls out the following gem (which I think is terrible, but which is so incredibly wrong that I can't help but laugh) about how he lost his attraction towards women when they started entering the workforce: "Let's face it: that would be like f***ing a slightly more voluptuous version of somebody's father! I'm far too sensitive for such a traumatic experience!" This album is a treasure trove of attacks on society the likes of which Zappa hadn't attempted since Money, and one could probably fill up pages of analysis on its various nooks and crannies if so desired.

It's too bad, then, that I really hated listening to this album (and yes, I did make myself listen to it start to finish more than just once). It's a cool idea on paper, but it's JUST TOO MUCH. The original music content of the album is extremely low: there are only a handful of new songs, and the rest is either reworked versions (with new lyrics) of previous Zappa songs (from Zoot Allures, You Are What You Is, Ship Arriving, Tinseltown Rebellion and probably others I'm forgetting) or generic Broadway-style dialogue-driven mush. The new "actual" songs are nice - I'm particularly fond of the hilarious disco-pop/doo-wop of "He's So Gay," and "Brown Moses" has a weird sense of power in its bluesy perversion - but they're clearly not the point of the album. The point is to take the most offensive concepts possible and shove them down the listener's throat with reckless abandon, and by the 3,000th entendre I'd just had enough. What it reminds me of, painfully, is the Flo and Eddie era, back with a vengeance and voiced by a black Mr. Potato Head. Many parts of the album make me laugh, but it's a very uncomfortable, unpleasant kind of laugh, and while that's almost certainly what Zappa would have wanted, that doesn't mean I have to pretend to enjoy it at all.

If you really, Really, REALLY like Zappa the social satirist, this is probably a must, and if you're fascinated by Zappa's obsession with conceptual continuity, it might be worth listening to just to play, "Name that Zappa song!" when listening. Otherwise, though, this is an absolutely nightmarish listen. I understand that even most Zappa fanatics tend to shun this album, and it makes me shudder to think that some people might have been introduced to him through here.

tarkus1980 | 1/5 |


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