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Frank Zappa - Frank Zappa For President CD (album) cover

FRANK ZAPPA FOR PRESIDENT

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars It is my opinion, now 23 years after his untimely death, that any newly released Frank Zappa music is a very good thing. But since (supposedly) all of the albums Mr. Zappa himself prepared for his family to release have been issued, there can only be a dwindling amount of fresh material to be found.

This album is a collection timed to coincide with the 2016 US Presidential election (I won't get into my personal feelings about the process here).

The collection consists of three previously unreleased (I think) Synclavier tracks, one FZ interview piece backed by some Synclavier accents, one remix/re-edit of a very classic track, and two live tracks from the '88 tour.

Let's start with the Synclavier music, as these pieces are the best reason to purchase the album. "Overture To "Uncle Sam"" is easily the most outstanding work. It's a Stravinsky tinged opus that sounds to me like it was meant to be a guitar concerto. That the synth guitar lines would probably confound nearly every guitarist on the planet is a moot point. I would love to hear what a group like Ensemble Moderne could do with this.

"Amnerica" is a Synclavier piece that I believe appeared in orchestral arrangement as "Questi Cazzi Di Piccione" on "The Yellow Shark". This one has lyrics sung by Napoleon Murphy Brock, and is quite hypnotic. Although this is nice, there is a 10 minute live version on Youtube performed by the Ensemble Moderne that is far better than either this one or the Yellow Shark version.

"Medieval Ensemble" I do not believe has been released elsewhere. It's nice, but sounds like many of FZ's Synclavier works, meaning just a little too formless for me to listen to repeatedly. "If I Was President" is FZ in an interview speaking about what he would do if he was President, with synth noises behind him, similar to what he did to the politicians bloviating on "Meets The Mothers Of Prevention".

"Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a slightly different edit and mix of the original "Absolutely Free" version. Ears familiar with the original will hear the differences.

"Finally, there are two tracks from the '88 tour. "When The Lie's So Big" is not very different from the "Broadway The Hard way" version, and just as dated by the topical references in the lyrics, and "America The Beautiful", played gospel style, with a fantastic FZ solo.

Report this review (#1600728)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2016 | Review Permalink
TCat
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars Released in 2016, the year that a 'stable genius' was voted in for president (there must have been a time in his life that he worked at mucking out horse stables, and I'm sure he was the best one in history), 'Frank Zappa for President' was unfortunately not to be taken seriously because it was, of course, released posthumously. However, even though he has long left this earthly plane, he probably would have been better in his current state than the real one in his current state. Anyway, no more political views here, this is an album review.

Zappa actually considered running for president. Would he have been a good one? Well, we'll never really know, but I usually don't like to encourage voting for celebrities. At any rate, in an interview for Gig in 1977, Zappa said he would be a perfect president, but at that time, he said he wasn't ready yet. He said some day he would be, but not until he thought it would be fun. But in 1991, in an interview with Spin magazine, he was seriously considering running for the next election. It never happened because after many volunteers had offered to help, he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He continued with his music, mostly doing synclavier compositions.

'Frank Zappa for President' is a combination of synclavier works and previously unreleased band tracks, all of them having to do with politics and the like. The album was compiled by Joe Travers and produced by him and Ahmet Zappa. The thematic element works well in the collection of these tracks that easily merit a full album. It all starts off with the long, synclavier piece 'Overture to 'Uncle Sam'', a 15 minute track that was part of an Opera that he was working on. It was performed on synclavier and used as a demonstration piece for that instrument and was included on tapes that also included tracks used in the album 'Everything is Healing Nicely'. The first 5 minutes of the piece was also performed by the Ascolta Ensemble in 2007. The music on this track is not as inaccessible as some of his other more impressionistic pieces, and it is easy to imagine how great this would have been with a full orchestra. But the recording and performance is great and more along the lines of the tracks on the album 'Jazz from Hell', so it isn't abstract for the most part.

Following this is a remix of 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It', one of Zappa's more famous comedic songs/sketches inspired by Lyndon B. Johnson, or a city hall official fantasizing about a 13-year-old girl. It's one of the Mother's most famous tracks. When asked why it was remixed, the answer was that it was probably going to be used for the 'Uncle Meat' soundtrack, but never was, so it seemed to fit well with this album. Next is 'Amnerka' performed on the synclavier again, but in this version, Napoleon Murphy Block sings vocals that were meant for the 'Thing-Fish' album, but never used. More synclavier continues on the next track 'If I Was President' which also has spoken words from Frank (recorded at a separate time as the instrumental track) over layered on the music. This was combined by Joe Travers. Frank talks about mostly how he would campaign differently than the norm, but also how he would differ from the usual politician. It's quite an interesting track.

'When the Lie's So Big' was originally found on the 'Broadway the Hard Way' album as a live track, but on this album, we get an unreleased live performance of the track which was recorded at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on March 25, 1988. Both Frank and Ike Willis do vocals backed up by the full band on this version. 'Medieval Ensemble' is a 6 minute synclavier piece that takes on a more baroque style, again written for a full orchestra. The album finishes with the band accompanying Ike Willis singing a seemingly heartfelt rendition of 'America The Beautiful'. This is also taken from the same show as 'When the Lie's So Big' on this album, and must have also been an encore performance as Frank calls out 'This really is good night' at the end.

Overall, this is quite an enjoyable album with a timely thematic element, and includes a good variety with both excellent synclavier compositions and full band pieces. Some might think the opening track is a little too long, but it is one of those tracks that gets better when you get more familiar with it. Of course, these pieces show of Frank's versatility and his ability to write complicated classical music, but the album quite effectively breaks this up with vocal and band performances, so you get the best of both worlds. However, it does seem a little inconsistent because of this, but that is only a minor problem. It easily ranks as one of the better posthumous compilations of unreleased material and the thematic element easily ties it all together and makes it seem more like an album than a compilation. 4 stars.

Report this review (#2433406)
Posted Thursday, July 30, 2020 | Review Permalink

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