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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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1 stars St Francis of Asinine

I felt secure in the knowledge that the worst concept album ever made by anyone, anywhere was Preservation Acts I & II by the Kinks. This was a flimsy edifice of twee Orwellian drivel from a band I considered to be one of my favourites of all time.(and still do) Ray Davies' tale of a huge faceless corporation (read EVIL) that wished nothing more than to drive out ordinary people (read GOOD) from their humble villages (read GOOD) in the pursuit of mercenary gain, (read EVIL) for all its overreaching artifice and risible bravado, was at the very least sincere but grievously misguided.

Joe's Garage is much, much worse. Let me sum up the plot for you:

Rock'n'Roll is dumb and its practitioners often smell bad (yet somehow the prurient obsessions of hirsute guitar totin' plankton are our only hope of salvation from those who wish to stifle such sedition) Rock stars are the waay coolest enemies of the state as their music is subversive, dangerous and thus a threat to the pillars of convention.

Blow it out yer denim clad wazoo Frank, this document is all the proof needed that like charity, censorship begins at home. Had just one of his expensively assembled sessioneer luvvies had the cojones to advise Frank this whole disingenuous farce was a locker room summit, things may have turned out differently.

Circa 1979 in Zappa's post modern but pre Kinsey Report psyche, America 'hid' sex because it was 'dirty' and disapproved of 'Rawk' because it was the 'devil's music' and promoted 'carnal thoughts' ergo, he had a mandate to throw double entendres, blow-jobs, wet t-shirts, titties, beer and whatever other rotten fruit from his abandoned orchard at a prudish and blushing suburbia. In the soiled realm of the scatological (a non-sequitur to be sure) you get the overriding impression that toilet training must have been delivered by pets to their owners. The only individual or member of a demographic referenced in this album who actually has an undeniable hang up about sex, is Frank Zappa. In this cramped and humid FZ cosmology there are basically two types of female: Groupies and women who 'really' want to be groupies despite their protestations to the contrary.

As to what heavyweight chopmeisters such as Vinnie Colaiuta, Tommy Mars and Terry Bozzio were doing replicating the efforts of a bar band fuelled by Dutch Courage on many of these tracks is beyond me. If the Beatles White Album can be considered an affectionate and skilful homage to a wide variety of popular music styles, then Joe's Garage is its corollary: a spiteful and lazy parody of those styles that serves only to accentuate whatever vestige of merit remains in what is being ridiculed. One of the pifalls/benefits (you choose) inherent in lampooning musical genres is that your audience, if dumb or gauche enough, actually start to mistake your deceit for the genuine article. Zappa is certainly no lard-head but I'm sure that at this point from his embittered leer he would have derived great relish in passing off vinegar as Honky Château for under-age drinkers. All manner of scribbled approximations of what crass and venal popular culture represents are attempted here: parochial world music, motionless booty disco, Goths tackling funk, racist 'wops' doo-wop, farm-boy industrial, Not In My Back Yardies Reggae, debonair wino crooners and bogus boogie all merely serve to show Zappa's resentment that he couldn't write a single good pop song during his entire career. (It's harder than it looks Frankie snicker)

Many apologists for this archly conservative 'panto for longhairs' have cited Zappa's avowed inspiration sourced from the extant Iranian revolution. That someone might identify Islamic Sharia law, separation of the sexes, guardianship of the jurist and the veiling of females as representative of inalienable freedoms preferable to the brutal and violent imposition of western values can of course be debated at length, but FZ is clearly befuddled by a choice between the land of his birth propping up a dictatorial regime or replacing same with an equally repellent alternative.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that musicians as routinely accomplished as those gathered here cannot be unremittingly wretched for a whole 2 hours and there are a couple tracks on Joe's Garage that escape the prevailing puerile gigglefest:

Watermelon in Easter Hay is an exquisitely beautiful guitar solo that boasts a tone and timbre unmatched in the entire FZ oeuvre. Over a sparing and largo 9/4 groove Frank weaves and flexes sinews of controlled power and lyricism all too often neglected in his vast arsenal of admirable chops. Wet T Shirt Night would have made a decent instrumental but isn't so erm...

If you're 14 years old, (biologically or otherwise) live close to Lake Clearasil and giggle at the words 'Moby Dick' or 'crevice' then this is your holy grail.

ExittheLemming | 1/5 |


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