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Frank Zappa - Broadway The Hard Way CD (album) cover

BROADWAY THE HARD WAY

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.63 | 98 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Kinda dated and kinda dumb, but definitely not without its charms. It's the first of multiple recordings documenting Frank's 1988 tour (his last with a full band), but it sounds more like a music-based stand-up comedy routine than a "typical" (even by Frank's standards) concert. Adding to both the dumbness and the datedness is that Zappa actually names names and organizations, as opposed to making criticisms on a more generalized level. These factors contributed to me disliking the album a good deal on first listen, as they made things seem dated in a way that, say, "Billy the Mountain" never could to me. But, I eventually came around to it, for the most part.

The sound is rooted in the same jazzy, noodly aspects of most of Zappa's live performances, but there are a lot of places where generic Broadway-ish elements make their way in (hence the name of the album). The band actually touches on several different styles over the course of the album (even featuring Ike Willis doing a full blown rap, with fake turn-table scratching and everything, in "Promiscuous"), so monotony is probably something this album couldn't be accused of. The focus is clearly on the lyrics, though, and they're actually quite clever even when they're topically generic. One of the "new" tracks, "Dickie's Such an Asshole" (inspired by Richard Nixon, naturally), had been performed regularly in the early 70's (there's a version from 1973 on You Can't Do That on Stage Vol 3), but the majority of the new material was written for the age of 80's Reagan conservatism. The lyrics are generally worth a couple of giggles, and besides, as of this writing, it's not as if critique of that kind of conservatism and its influence on politics and society is totally out of date, so there is definitely still some resonance to be found in all of the various rants. I would prefer it if the music was more memorable more of the time, but good lyrics should be given their due.

Still, the best moments of the album come when the band is focused on the music, not the message. Sting makes a cameo appearance, decrying the claims that "Murder by Numbers" was written by Satan, and proceeds to give a very nice reading of the song (jazzier than the original, I'd note). "Outside Now," the old Joe's Garage stand-by, sounds terrific here, as Frank dishes out some very inspired playing, and "Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel" stands out once again as a pretty good jazz-blues protest rocker. Indeed, there are very nice stretches musically on here; it's just that there aren't many of them.

In the end, I can't give this a very high rating, even though there's enough good stuff to keep this album from even remotely approaching a bad rating. I just feel like Zappa was more effective attacking societal norms, human nature and American culture than he was in attacking specific individuals and organizations. That doesn't mean, though, he couldn't do a pretty decent job of the latter.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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