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Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage, Act I CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.12 | 471 ratings

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4 stars It seems funny to me that I think of this as some of Frank Zappa's later work when in actuality it came out in only 1979. Nonetheless, this is a different side of Frank Zappa then what appeared on his real early Mothers albums. The music is a little less weird, the lyrics are a little more scatological, but the energy and the "not-taking-itself-too-seriously" mentality that one can expect from Frank Zappa is definitely still here. "Joe's Garage" is a tongue-in-cheek concept album about the dangers of rock-and-roll, narrated by "The Central Scrutinizer," a kind of propagandistic character whose raspy words of warning appear throughout the album.

Speaking of The Central Scrutinizer, "Joe's Garage, Act I" begins with a track that bears his name. The track is really just an introduction, featuring about a few minutes of spoken word lyrics over an energetic, repeating groove. It sets the stage nicely and helps to establish the story, but in my opinion three and a half minutes is a little too long for a spoken word introduction.

"Joe's Garage" is next, and it's a darn good song. It almost has the feel of a very vintage kind of Americana, with some simple but charming lyrics and some fun instrumental breaks meant to represent the beginning attempts of "Joe's" band. It's a nice, pop-rock and roll track, and it's a hundred miles away from some of the experimental noise that appeared on the early Mothers albums. The track ends with about 30 seconds of narration from the Central Scrutinizer before transitioning into the next track.

"Catholic Girls" is that follow up, and it's thoroughly goofy. Featuring some hilariously exaggerated vocals and equally ridiculous lyrics, the song transitions between a more upbeat, doo-wop-ish section and a slower, more spaced-out section. It's still far more poppy than a lot of Zappa's past work, but the irreverent humor is thematically 100% Zappa.

And speaking of irreverent humor, "Crew Slut" fits that description pretty nicely. Starting off with a grooving and slightly sinister sounding guitar riff, "Crew Slut" develops around some driving bass-work into one of my favorite songs on the album. It's always amazing to me how Zappa can write songs with such goofy lyrics, through in some spoken word sections, and still make a better pop song than a whole lot of other artists who devoted their entire career to that genre.

"Wet T-Shirt Night" continues much in the same vein, which should be utterly unsurprising based on that title. It's an incredibly cheerful sounding song with a strange-but-cool instrumental towards the beginning that almost sounds like some kind of demented circus music, and I'm pretty sure at one points it quotes a brief bit of "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Like a lot of the album, it features a spoken word section, but it works pretty well here and doesn't detract from the song a bit.

"Toad O Line," which my copy lists as "On the Bus" is an instrumental that features Zappa's guitar prominently. Like all of Zappa's instrumental work it's absolutely amazing, and it's a perfect transition point in the album, providing an intense break from the absurd lyrics contained on the rest of the disk.

Fear not, though, as "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee" brings those lyrics back in top form, and it's actually hands down my favorite song on the album and might even be one of my favorite single Zappa songs ever. Musically it's amazing, with some incredibly intense guitar and some stellar keyboards as well. The frankly hilarious lyrics are delivered absolutely deadpan, which only makes them funnier.

"Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" closes off the album. It's a spacey, smooth track with an excellent vocal performance and some psychedelic sound effects thrown in just for good measure. It's a great, comparatively restrained song, and it's a great closer.

I began this review with the intention of giving this album 3.5 stars, but after listening through it a couple more times I realize I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I called it anything less than excellent. If you need your lyrics serious then you probably won't enjoy this album, as the lyrics are pervasive and at the forefront of the music, but if you enjoy a bit of humor in your music then you owe it to yourself to hear this album. Certainly a bit poppy for Zappa, but when you can write songs as well as well as Mr. Zappa can then it really doesn't matter what genre you're writing in.


VanVanVan | 4/5 |


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