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

THE MAN FROM UTOPIA

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.12 | 160 ratings

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Cygnus X-2
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Frank Zappa's 1983 album titled The Man From Utopia is a bit of an underrated piece in my opinon. It's not a masterpiece by any means and it isn't even close to the best album Zappa released in the 80s. Still, though, there are some really fun pieces on it interspersed with some odd semi-sung vocal monologues that are really more random than anything else. The album does yield some nice instrumentals, though, and songs like Cocaine Decisions and SEX are fun pieces that have some fun instrumentation and vocals. But I'll get about to talking about them a bit later. This would also be the last Zappa album to have a guest appearance from one of the original Mothers of Invention in the enigmatic Roy Estrada, who provides a lead vocal in the song Luigi & The Wise Guys. What can be for certain, though, is that this album would be the last slightly above average Zappa album (excluding LSO and Perfect Stranger) until Meets the Mothers of Prevention.

The album opens with the chant of, "chop a line now" followed by some wisps of harmonica and some biting Zappa lyrics targetting the cocaine addicts in the workplace (like lawyers, doctors, etc). It's probably the most significant of all of Zappa's anti-drug pieces. Fun piece and one of the best on the album with some great backing vocals (which are wordless but give the song a humorous feel). SEX follows up Cocaine Decisions with some racous and raunchy lyrics and rollicking arena rock. Although this style of song was used on You Are What You Is, it's has a definite catchy feel that I like. Tink Walks Amok is an instrumental that has an 11/8 main theme and some great bass riffing from Scott Thunes as well as some fantastic drumming from Chad Wackerman. It's the first of three great instrumentals on the album. The Radio is Broken has some classic vocal stylings from Roy Estrada and some silly vocals from Zappa as well. Add is some zany Zappa soloing and some nice piano from Tommy Mars and you have this ridiculous piece, that despite the fun parts is a bit disappointing. We Are Not Alone is the second instrumental of the album. It has some nice saxophone from Bobby Martin as well as some great guitar work from Zappa and Steve Vai, as well as some nice call and respond play between the vibes and the guitars.

The Dangerous Kitchen and later The Jazz Discharge Party Hats, is a vocal led tune with some manic instrumentation behind it. The only problem with this song is Zappa's vocals which are too out of place for a song like and this and he tries to hard to be funny at times. The Man from Utopia Meets Mary Lou is a "medley" piece as the album describes it to be, and it's actually a fun piece. It brings memories of the song Dong Work for Yuda on Joe's Garage mainly in the vocal approach, and since that song was amazing, this song is good, but not as great as Dong Work For Yuda. Stick Together and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats are probably my least favorite pieces on the album. The first is an anti-Union piece that is Zappa at his most sniping, and the latter is essentially a continuation of the Dangerous Kitchen type song that is just preposterous and not very interesting at all. Luigi and the Wise Guys is an a capella piece with Roy Estrada getting one last moment in the spotlight with his signature Pachuco vocals with the rest of the group providing a solid backing vocal foundation. It's not the best song, but it's one of the only Zappa songs in this style. Moggio ends the album with a percussive beat that is really superb and the overall feel of the song is perfect and the musicianship is excellent.

In the end, while not even remotely close to the best Zappa album this isn't a bad effort. I like about half the songs on the album and I'm a bit disappointed with the rest, but that half fares particularly well when put up against his later works like Thing-Fish and Francesco Zappa. If you want 80s Zappa, this may be one of the albums you'll want to go to. Most people don't like this album all that much, but I think it is a solid album. 3/5.

Cygnus X-2 | 3/5 |

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