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Frank Zappa - Thing-Fish CD (album) cover

THING-FISH

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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4 stars Wow! It's great! It is so funny and entertaining. It is a sort musical with wierd plot and beautiful music. I enjoyed listening to it. Terry and Dale Bozzio are great. If you like crazy stuff, you'll love it.
Report this review (#30021)
Posted Thursday, May 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars A stunning album, the coming together of all those threads with which Zappa had been weaving since 200 Motels and earlier. All the characters are there all the themes, all brought together in a way which makes conceptual sense of the whole edifice; Zappa did call it 'conceptual continuity'.

There is little here that is musically new, but all of the older material is reworked and rearranged in wonderful, clever, pleasing ways - my favorite being the reversed version of 'No not now' off Ship Arriving... Part of the pleasure is is spotting the quoting: a truly Post-Modern work! But these tunes stand on their own and are probably the richest most stimulting pop music you'll here. It was Zappa's genius to construct seemingly disposable pop tunes that were so much more. The storyline is funny too and engaging.

It might be that all of this could make the album inaccessible to non-Zappa fans, I can't judge, but it seems unlikely that anybody is going to speculatively buy this record. However, if Thing Fish does fall into the hands of a a non-fan I think they'll be happy enough. Certainly, they won't get the references, but they woudn't expect to and the work does stand on its own, with catchy, dense, sophisticated tunes and a rude, nasty, funny story. What more could anybody want?

Report this review (#30023)
Posted Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
1 stars Alright, my question to Mr. Zappa, what were you thinking with this one? A very odd and "interesting" concept album from Frank and his band of cohorts. Certainly one of the last ones in Zappa collection, as it is very strange and could put you off of Zappa easily. The reworkings of some classic Zappa songs here are welcome, and certainly translated into more "crude" forms vocally, but still there are some things to enjoy. Terry Bozzio does a terrific job in the role of Harry, and Dale Bozzio does a superb job as Rhonda. These two steal the show with their constant bickering and banter about mostly sex-related issues. It has a similarity with Joe's Garage with that. However, the melodies in the original compositions aren't really that strong but the dialogue that occurs really creates a broadway-type atmosphere. I really enjoy The Torchum Never Stops and Drop Dead. The first is a reworking of the classic The Torture Never Stops from Zoot Allures, only Ike Willis takes it to another level with his crude, ebonic-like vocals. Drop Dead features superb performances from Terry and Dale Bozzio, and has some strong rhythms to it. Overall, if you are a Zappa fan, you probably own this (and probably dislike it as much as I do), If you are just getting into Zappa, then steer clear of this and return once you've looked into the rest of his catalogue. In all seriousness, this album is not really worth the money unless you are a completionist (like me).1.5/5.
Report this review (#55449)
Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
1 stars Though I`m a die-hard Zappa fan, I really find this the worst album in his repertoire, the voice of Ike Willis, which is great in other albums, sounds like Captain Beefheart has mutated into the strange grotesque creature of the cover of the album. Even though some people say the story is funny, it may be but I`m not quite sure if they ever listened again to the so-called funny story.

Buy it only if it`s the last to complete your collection.

Report this review (#83896)
Posted Sunday, July 16, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars I'm a huge fan of Zappa works but, in all the album he made, Thing-Fish is the only one i can't stand. I've tried to find something good in it and unfortunatly, i can't. I understand that Zappa is a visionary composer and that some of is works might be a little strange but in the case of a album like Thing-Fish it's a little too mutch. 1 and a half star.
Report this review (#84026)
Posted Monday, July 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars 1.Prologue 2.Mammy Nuns 3.Clowns on Velvet 4.Crab-Grass-Baby 5.Won Ton On

These 5 songs are good, the story line is funny for about 5 or so listens (to where you laugh out loud at least 15 times).

The 5 listed songs are some of Frank Zappa's best 1984 songs, and this is a highly important album reflecting his music shift (Any more "rock" songs after Them or Us and Thing Fish appear only on live performances, for instance on Broadway the Hardway, and The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life).

Mammy Nuns is one of the coolest songs ever written.

Report this review (#86706)
Posted Friday, August 11, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is Zappa's most underrated album. Not for the quality of the music but for the storyline and its relevance to society (as with every Zappa work). It easily could have been one of his masterpieces but suffers from its abundance of recycled material. Thing-Fish instead rides entirely on its entertainment value (it is undeniably funny). It is unfair how this album is almost universally hated among Zappa fans and I to this day defend it.

(rating closer to 3.5)

Report this review (#160393)
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
1 stars I have to give Zappa credit: I now know what it takes to turn me into a raging Puritan. It takes moments like hearing Terry Bozzio yelling out, "Hurt me, OB'DEWLLA! Make me whimper and beg for your tiny rubber love!"

I will admit that, when I think about what's accomplished with this album without thinking about actually listening to it, this album impresses me pretty well. It takes the form of a parody on Broadway musicals (Frank originally intended it to be a real production, but it was never performed in full until well after he died), starring the victims of government experiments to try and get rid of "highly rhythmic individuals and sissy boys." Thing Fish, voiced by Ike Willis (a Zappa regular) is one of these victims, and like all of them (the others, also part of the play, are called the Mammy Nuns) he ends up with a potato for a head, a duck bill for a mouth and wears an Aunt Jemima type dress. Two yuppies from Long Island, Harry (voiced by Terry Bozzio) and Rhonda (voiced by Dale Bozzio), come to the show expecting a generic razzle-dazzle Broadway production and unwittingly become part of the cast. Eventually, Harry as a young boy comes out on stage; Harry is revealed to be gay (for business purposes); Harry reveals his contempt for liberated women and women in the workforce; Harry falls in love with a robot version of Rhonda (Artificial Rhonda); Harry has a child (of sorts) with Artificial Rhonda; Harry dresses in bondage clothing and has lots of sex with one of the rubberized Mammy Nuns; Rhonda repeatedly has sex with her briefcase to get back at Harry. The end. No wonder the story of this album ended up as a featured article in Hustler.

It's hard to imagine a more vicious satire on yuppie culture than what happens on this album (that isn't to say it's all that successful, but it sure is intense). This album drew a lot of complaints for having excessive racist overtones, but I can't buy that; Willis' depiction of Thing Fish was little more than a faithful imitation of the Kingfish character from Amos and Andy, and this album really seems to make fun of racism in much the same way the movie Blazing Saddles did a decade previous. Plus, the album has a few really brilliant lines: it's hard to choose, but I think my favorite is when Rhonda goes on the following rant: "This is SYMBOLISM, Harry! Really DEEP, INTENSE, THOUGHT-PROVOKING BROADWAY SYMBOLISM! This isn't DREAM GIRLS, Harry! This is the way it REALLY IS ..." I'm also fond of when Harry pulls out the following gem (which I think is terrible, but which is so incredibly wrong that I can't help but laugh) about how he lost his attraction towards women when they started entering the workforce: "Let's face it: that would be like f***ing a slightly more voluptuous version of somebody's father! I'm far too sensitive for such a traumatic experience!" This album is a treasure trove of attacks on society the likes of which Zappa hadn't attempted since Money, and one could probably fill up pages of analysis on its various nooks and crannies if so desired.

It's too bad, then, that I really hated listening to this album (and yes, I did make myself listen to it start to finish more than just once). It's a cool idea on paper, but it's JUST TOO MUCH. The original music content of the album is extremely low: there are only a handful of new songs, and the rest is either reworked versions (with new lyrics) of previous Zappa songs (from Zoot Allures, You Are What You Is, Ship Arriving, Tinseltown Rebellion and probably others I'm forgetting) or generic Broadway-style dialogue-driven mush. The new "actual" songs are nice - I'm particularly fond of the hilarious disco-pop/doo-wop of "He's So Gay," and "Brown Moses" has a weird sense of power in its bluesy perversion - but they're clearly not the point of the album. The point is to take the most offensive concepts possible and shove them down the listener's throat with reckless abandon, and by the 3,000th entendre I'd just had enough. What it reminds me of, painfully, is the Flo and Eddie era, back with a vengeance and voiced by a black Mr. Potato Head. Many parts of the album make me laugh, but it's a very uncomfortable, unpleasant kind of laugh, and while that's almost certainly what Zappa would have wanted, that doesn't mean I have to pretend to enjoy it at all.

If you really, Really, REALLY like Zappa the social satirist, this is probably a must, and if you're fascinated by Zappa's obsession with conceptual continuity, it might be worth listening to just to play, "Name that Zappa song!" when listening. Otherwise, though, this is an absolutely nightmarish listen. I understand that even most Zappa fanatics tend to shun this album, and it makes me shudder to think that some people might have been introduced to him through here.

Report this review (#400514)
Posted Monday, February 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
1 stars Now I am as big a fan of Frank Zappa's work as anybody, but this supposed Broadway show, or parody of a Broadway show is a nearly unlistenable mess. Whatever messages Zappa was trying to convey get lost in a bizarre script that can't seem to stay on any concept, other than weird sex, for more than a minute or two. It begins with what appears to be a story of government experimentation on it's own citizens, then veers quickly through self centered yuppies, religion, sexual preference, until it just sits mired in perversion and ridicule.

I would never accuse Zappa of being a racist, but having Ike Willis sing and speak the entire album in an exaggerated "ebonic" vernacular makes the album almost an embarassment to listen to. And what may have been very funny to Zappa when writing and recording this, just falls flat in the final product.

The majority of the music is made up of previously released songs, with lyrics changed to fit the loose story of the show. Most of the new tracks are simple rhythms, with bits of singing, or spoken lines over them. The only listenable new song is Brown Moses, a gospel blues rock song featuring Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.

My guess is that in the wake of the music labelling controversy, which had Zappa testifying in the U.S. Senate, and Tipper Gore reciting sexual lyrics, Zappa just tried to create the most offensive album he could. In that he may have succeeded.

Report this review (#447941)
Posted Saturday, May 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
HolyMoly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Retired Admin
3 stars This is probably one of the top 5 most controversial items in Zappa's catalog, and that's saying a lot. I wince upon remembering that I dared to listen to this album in the same house as my parents. I hope they weren't listening through my bedroom door!

This was originally a three-record boxed set, with a libretto containing all the dialog and song lyrics; it's since been turned into a 2-CD set. Approximately half of the album is spoken dialog or narration, and the majority of the song material is reworked from prior material that had already been released. The theme is multi-fold: it's a parody of Broadway, a political statement on government testing of harmful chemicals on the public (a conspiracy theory I was not previously aware of), a ridiculous expose' on racism and the blurring of the lines in gender roles and identity brought about by yuppie culture. It's gross. It's tasteless. It's probably taking things a bit too far. But it's a good piece of work.

Musically, here's what happens:

Side One: The Prologue is a musical background performed on bass/guitar/drums, with Ike Willis as Thing Fish providing some background narration. "The Mammy Nuns" is a strong rock song (also performed live as an instrumental guitar vehicle, see You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1) sung by Willis. "Harry and Rhonda" introduces Terry and Dale Bozzio's characters, the focus of the story, some dialog with more Synclavier music. "Galoot Update" is a recasting of the song "The Blue Light" (from Tinsel Town Rebellion), which itself featured a lot of spoken parts; these parts are replaced by more Thing Fish narration, very well integrated with the music. Probably the best track on the album.

Side Two: This begins with a tangential plot which is never adequately explained. The Zappa standard "The Torture Never Stops" is used to bring in an "Evil Prince" into the story, torturing people in his dungeon (just like the original song), but there's a lengthy Broadway-style song inserted in the middle sung by Napoleon Murphy Brock (occasionally performed live by Ray White; see You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 4) that also bemoans the state of Broadway. Confusing. The side ends with the dubious inclusion of the song "You Are What You Is", which is identical to the studio version, but has Thing Fish's interjections between each line, which work pretty well, adding to the song instead of subtracting. Still, plot-wise, I'm a bit lost.

Side Three: As on the You Are What You Is album, that song is followed by "Mudd Club" and "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", which follow the same pattern. By this time, the Harry and Rhonda plot has pretty much been lost, and it's hard to understand where Zappa is going with this. It's still entertaining, of course, and these are undeniably good songs, made just a little funnier with Thing Fish talking during them. "Clowns on Velvet" is an otherwise unreleased Zappa instrumental in the same vein as complex pieces like "Moggio" from the Man From Utopia album, though it too has a bit of narration inserted in it. Finally Harry returns to the action, forced to watch his early life as a boy re- enacted on stage: "Harry as a Boy" comprises more dialogue with Synclavier backing. And lo and behold, Harry is outed as gay ("for business purposes"), and the somewhat mocking "He's So Gay" brings all the Mammy Nuns (Thing-Fish and his potato-headed cronies) out to sing on his behalf.

Side Four: "The Massive Improve'lence" offers more dialogue, Rhonda (Harry's wife) suddenly aghast at discovering his secret life. But Thing-Fish keeps her at bay for the time being, in the interest of keeping the plot (such as it is) moving forward. "Artificial Rhonda" retells Harry's procurement of a wife, a depthless automaton of a woman, sung to the tune of "Ms Pinky" originally from the Zoot Allures album. Man and wife give birth to a little automaton of their own, the "Crab Grass Baby", who speaks in a robotic voice throughout this darkly synthesized piece. "The White Boy Troubles" is a brief tune that introduces yet another character, Brown Moses, played by Johnny "Guitar" Watson, though I fail to really see where he fits in the plot. The side ends with more narration from Thing-Fish.

Side Five: Stay with me here, we're almost through. This side gets off to a fine start with "No Not Now", a song previously released on Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, but with Thing-Fish interjections overdubbed on top. Again, it's funny and adds a layer of humor to the song. I still feel like the song doesn't really serve the story, but it's nice to have a good song come on now and then. It is a music album, after all. But while we've been enjoying it, Rhonda has just about had enough, and she furiously calls Harry a "worm" and has sex with her briefcase ("Briefcase Boogie"), which is Zappa's non- subtle way of conveying the trend of 80s careerism and sexlessness. You might want to check outside your door at this point to see if your mom is anywhere around. Brown Moses returns with a fine R&B styled song called "Brown Moses", which comments on the action in the past few tracks.

Side Six: For the final side, the Evil Prince (remember him?) returns to sing "Wistful wit a Fistful", for reasons I can't detect. Then all hell breaks loose in "Drop Dead", with Rhonda going even further out beyond the realms of family entertainment, if yo' 'quire my drif'. Finally, with Harry and Rhonda's marriage fallen apart but everyone happier somehow, Thing-Fish ties things up into a somewhat happy ending, over a backing track that is "No Not Now" played backwards (thus the title "Won Ton On").

In conclusion, the good and the bad:

Good: 1) Ike Willis's Thing-Fish character, spoken with an amusing, knowingly racist dialect similar to Amos and Andy (it helps that Willis is African-American himself). Willis is on top of the role and performs it brilliantly. 2) Terry and Dale Bozzio pulling off a very convincing, albeit over-the-top yuppie couple. 3) Some of the Synclavier backing is quite effective, and shows a side of Zappa not seen previously.

Bad: 1) Forcing existing songs into the plot without much to tie them in. 2) Frequent lapses in good taste. I get when Zappa's fans insist that it all has a point, but as was the case with "Sy Borg" on Joe's Garage, some of it seems like the "point" is just an excuse to be as extreme and obnoxious as he likes. 3) A choppy plot line and unclear story development.

If you're a Zappa fan, and haven't heard this, by all means do. There's enough humor and good ideas to make it worthwhile: it's neither a masterpiece nor a waste of time. But please brace yourself for some sick material, if you're not already on Zappa's somewhat perverse wavelength.

Report this review (#991530)
Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album is an aquired taste but once you get what it is - Frank Zappa's take on Broadway - then it's easier to appreciate. I don't get the low rating this album has here although I will admit that upon first listens I was not impressed. On later listens though I started to get it, what in the end got through was Zappa's twisted but very clever sense of humour and this album is packed to the brim with it. Musically it is not great however as a ride through Frank Zappa's mind, that is more than a little twisted here, it is a worthwhile and entertaining trip. This is Zappa holding up extended middle fingers of both hands up to the music critics of the world and in this, boy does he get it right. I can't give this more than three stars however I will say that when I want to sit with a somewhat twisted grin on my face for an hour and a half or so then this is something that I will revert to quite often. It does nothing to further the art of music at all but it is a statement and it is damnedly, twistedly, funny at the same time - it also makes a serious statement at the same time underlying all of the somewhat jaw dropping, out there, humour. I challenge anyone to listen to "Briefcase Boogie" for the first time and not have his jaw drop in wonder at this artist's wicked sense of humour although I will say that it's strictly adults only stuff - I wouldn't recommend that anyone plays it to their family and kids - well maybe to dear old Granny to get a reaction, or to the prim and proper mother-in-law to get on her even more disliked list.
Report this review (#1014631)
Posted Friday, August 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars Only for the Hard-Core Fan.

Up there among the most bizarre albums ever made (yes, even more strange than Trout Mask Replica), 'Thing Fish' sees Zappa make a play about a fictitious US government-military (or is it the Brown Moses?) plot to wipe out whole groups (African Americans, creatives, gays, etc) that represent opposition to conservative Republican-party ideals. The plot creates a Thing-Fish (played by Ike Willis) who goes on stage and gets pseudo-audience members involved in his story (the album is a faux broadway play). The libretto is bizarre for sure. I actually like Ike Willis' performance here, and some of the story 'can be' quite funny (certainly not everyone will think so - to be honest, I only find about a third of the lines funny). The big problem is that there is very little music here. Zappa has the characters voicing their lines over his own great compositions, but he has turned down the volume on the music so much you can hardly hear it, while turning up the voices. There are very few instrumental sections, so few breaks that make you remember why you love listening to Zappa albums. Instead the focus is all on the story, and while each of us might like the story a bit less or a bit more, it is not very likely you will want to ever listen to it again once you heard it once - each of us only has one life to live, and this album takes a long time to get through! And, a musical album this is not. So, I would say this is only for hard-core fans who love the bizarre side of Zappa's sense of humour and don't mind sitting through 90 minutes of very strange faux broadway play. If you like the music here, I would instead recommend you get the first and fourth volumes of Zappa's 'You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore' live compilations. Volume 1 has a live version of the Mammy Anthem without any voice-overs. Volume four has live versions of the two other best songs on this album, "Brown Moses" and "The Evil Prince", again without the characters lines over top. These are much better versions of these three tunes, which are the best songs on the album. For this album itself, I rate it 2.8 out of 10 on my 10-point scale. Only for the hard-core fan who has tons of time in retirement.

Report this review (#1695682)
Posted Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | Review Permalink

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