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SHIP ARRIVING TOO LATE TO SAVE A DROWNING WITCH

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Frank Zappa Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch album cover
3.56 | 167 ratings | 14 reviews | 16% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1982

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. No Not Now (5:50)
2. Valley Girl (4:50)
3. I Come From Nowhere (6:09)
4. Drowning Witch (12:03)
5. Envelopes (2:45)
6. Teen-Age Prostitute (2:41)

Total Time: 34:18

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / lead guitar, vocals
- Steve Vai / impossible guitar parts
- Ray White / rhythm guitar, vocals
- Tommy Mars / keyboards
- Bobby Martin / keyboards, saxophone, vocals
- Ed Mann / percussion
- Scott Thunes / bass
- Arthur Barrow / bass
- Patrick O'Hearn / bass
- Chad Wackerman / drums
- Roy Estrada / vocals
- Ike Willis / vocals
- Bob Harris / vocals
- Lisa Popeil / vocal on "Teen-age Prostitute"
- Moon Zappa / vocal on "Valley Girl"

Releases information

Rykodisc #RCD 10537

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FRANK ZAPPA Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch ratings distribution


3.56
(167 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(16%)
16%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(42%)
42%
Good, but non-essential (32%)
32%
Collectors/fans only (9%)
9%
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)
1%

FRANK ZAPPA Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch reviews


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by daveconn
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Lowbrow humor and late-inning guitar heroics were fast becoming a staple in FRANK ZAPPA's diet, so Ship Arriving Too Late. couldn't have come a moment too soon. Led by Frank's first (and last) US Top 40 hit, "Valley Girl", the album distills the artist down to his current essence: funny dialog, startling arrangements, and stellar musicianship. At six songs and thirty-four minutes, it's one of ZAPPA's shortest albums, but also his tightest since Joe's Garage, Act I. An octet plus vocalists, you might expect this crowd to step on one another's toes, but they never do: led by Steve Vai and bassist Scott Thunes, the music is a group portrait that allows individual players like percussionist Ed Mann and drummer Chad Wackerman to claim their own corner of the painting. You'll hear this especially on "Drowning Witch" and "Envelopes", which have more space between instruments than you'd expect from a band this big. There are moments on the mock-opera "Teen-age Prostitute" and the equally demented "I Come from Nowhere" when sounds come crashing together, but that's by design, and they soon return to their respective posts. Amid this musical maelstrom are two of Frank's most accessible tracks: "No Not Now" and "Valley Girl." The former is an improvement over the funky formula of "Fine Girl", the latter a launching pad for a lesson in valleyspeak from Frank's then-teenage daughter, Moon. It's worth a warning that "Valley Girl" isn't a fair indicator of what to expect from "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch"; no doubt some folks expecting a whole album of cute novelty songs were scratching their heads by side two. FZ produced some real clunkers in the '80s -- The Man from UTOPIA, Francesco ZAPPA -- but this one is worth rescuing from the junk pile. It's one of the "humorous" FRANK ZAPPA albums that tickles the imagination as well as the funny bone.

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Send comments to daveconn (BETA) | Report this review (#29944) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Review by Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Complete Work of Art

I'm a little frustrated by the lack of any biographical data behind the making of this album, apart from stories about the LSO sneaking off to the pub instead of rehearsing, Moon Unit's letter to daddy requesting an audition for the Valley Girl part, and Lisa Popiel's familial link to the Pocket Fisherman and Kitchen Magician.

So, here we go with an opinion piece - trying very hard to aviod the traps that reviewers can fall into; Finding "No, Not Now" irritating is surely to miss several points that Zappa intended us to catch; The clues must be in the lyrics - which I, for one, do not get entirely. For example, there is a reference to Donny and Marie (Osmond?) - "Can both take a bite" (a reference to the famous teeth and cheesey grins?), probably some innuendo (Bite it, Marie!), and the "Beans to Utah" is obviously a "Coals to Newcastle" reference. But without knowing these lyrical references it is difficult to come to any judgment other than the superficial "Sounds a bit repetitive", which may be true - but why?

We must remember that Zappa was first and foremost a composer, influenced by other serious composers, like Varese and Stockhausen. Unlike those composers, Zappa had a unique wit which is evident throughout his works - even the "serious" pieces. "Ship Arriving..." is a masterpiece in miniature, being around 35 minutes - but there is so much packed into those minutes that it is clear the music is but a reflection of the minimalist artwork on the cover - sharply angular, just a portion of Zappa, and a complete self-referential work.

It is widely known that "Valley Girl" was Frank's first and last hit single, featuring "Teenage Prostitute" as the flip side (vinyl singles were played both sides for the CD generation!). The reason for the pairing is obvious. The title track, "Envelopes" and "Teenage..." are blended as a single track - the only flaw IMO is that the two main guitar solos in the title track are slighty overlong and tend to meander around the same paths instead of developing. Again, maybe there is a deeper reason waiting to be found out.

"I Come From Nohere" is practically an introduction to "Valley Girl", although it appears afterwards sequentially on the album - and musically the two do flow well together. Maybe Zappa was just being obtuse - but who cares? This is an accessible introduction to Zappa, particularly for those who like their music on the heavier side with a large portion of funk, jazz and satire; and with Steve Vai serving up "Impossible guitar parts", you really can't go wrong. Think of David Lee Roth's "Skyscraper", but with braincells - Vai's profound influence is just as distinct on both albums.

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Send comments to Certif1ed (BETA) | Report this review (#29945) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, May 09, 2004

Review by Eetu Pellonpää
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This album was a disappointment to me, as I believe I'm not able to enjoy the style of this music (I'm more into his early 70's stuff). Though there's lots of technical complexity and good musical acts, they didn't save this record in my case. Even the hit song "Valley Girl" with Frank's daughter Moon sounded bad to my ears. Maybe Frank's and his band's style of humor had evolved to a direction which didn't please me. The covers are funny though.

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Send comments to Eetu Pellonpää (BETA) | Report this review (#38927) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, July 09, 2005

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Impossible guitars! The record starts with 2 rhythmic & complex "pop" rock songs "No not now" and "Valley girl". On "No not now", the repetitive, funny & crazy highly pitched vocals sound a bit like the ones on "Wind up working in a gas station" (Zoot allures). On "Valley girl", the girl who narrates the story is nobody else than Zappa's daughter Moon: she has a very good voice, with this exaggerated accent from Encino. Then follows one of the craziest track ever recorded by Frank: "I come from nowhere": I've never heard a so much complex bass: it is rhythmic & dissonant at the same time! It definitely takes many many listens to REALLY understand it! Like if it was not enough, the lead vocals on it are completely deranged! Finally, this track ends with an impossible guitar solo, absolutely gross, disgraceful and monolithic: but the accompanying bass and drums are so elaborated and loaded that you are obliged to find it at least good! The other side is completely different: we are talking about one of the most complex song from Zappa: "The drowning witch": the percussions are ABSOLUTELY outstanding! The track is all the time rhythm and melody changing, and what is the most impressive is to realize all that perfect synchronization of all the instruments. The first guitar solo is very bizarre and impossible to play: Yngwie Malmsteen is very melodic and catchy compared to that! Then the track continues with an awesome percussions exhibition: thanks God, the new involved guitar solo is a bit more comprehensible! The next track "Envelope" is very similar, so that those 2 tracks can be considered as one. Finally, the last track is more accessible & anthemic: the woman and man sing with a semi- opera voice; the overall sound and style of this track are a bit like on the "Tinsel town rebellion" album, especially the keyboards which emulate horns.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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Send comments to greenback (BETA) | Report this review (#39636) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, July 16, 2005

Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another very enjoyable 80's effort by Zappa, although being quite commercial in places though the title track and "Envelopes" are both jarringly complex and some of Zappa's most complex songs ever written back in the early 80's. The musicianship here his even tighter than usual and the production is clear as always giving the album a very polished but somewhat sterile sound, but the music mostly makes up for that. A guest appearance from Roy Estrada (from the old Mothers of Invention line-up) on "I Come From Nowhere" as lead vocalist singing like a retarded man is one of the funniest moments on this album and finish the song with a three-minute guitar solo (one of Zappa's coolest). The rest of the album is also good, notably the opener "No Not Now" with a catchy, repetitive melody with some really hilarious high-pitched singing to top it all. While "Valley Girl" is slightly weaker, but still has plenty of good riffs and was Zappa's only US top 50-hit. "Teenage Prostitute" is a hilarious Opera/Hard rock parody with some really hilarious lyrics and closes the album with a smile!

Highly recommended for Zappa fans that like his more polished material soundwise. A bit uneven but still very good!

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Send comments to Bj-1 (BETA) | Report this review (#71892) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, what a mouthful of words. This album, released in 1982, would prove to be my favorite early 80s Zappa album, mainly because of the incredible complexities that lie within each song. The album itself is made up 6 songs that yields arguably the best Zappa epic of the 80s and also one of the most technical pieces out there (Zappa said himself that the group never got the song 100% correct live and that only once did they come close). It would also yield Zappa's first and last hit single in the racous romp of Valley Girl (which his daughter Moon provided the infamous Valley Girl vocal lines). If there is one album from the 80s Zappa collection you should get, I would recommend this one, as it fares better than the rest (which range from disappointing to pretty good).

Opening with the falsetto vocals of No Not Now (you can definitely hear the Roy Estrada influence on the vocals, with falsettos galore). This song relies on the vocal parts more than the vocals, but it's a generally fun piece that is harmless more than anything else. Next up is the hit of the album, Valley Girl. Although pretty simple musically, the vocals here are the main draw. Moon Zappa improvised a bunch of dialogue that she actually had heard people talk about (in her best valley girl accent) and you can't help but laugh at the subject matter of the piece. The harmony vocals from Ike Willis, Roy Estrada, and Bob Harris are also fantastic. I Come from Nowhere is the first really complicated piece of the album, with some superb guitar from Zappa and Chad Wackerman playing some sophisticated drums. This track also has Roy Estrada singing as if he were mentally ill, which is nothing short of hilarious (as the man himself was a comedy machine). It ends the first half of the album comfortably.

The second half opens with one of Zappa's most technically challenging and dense compositions in Drowning Witch. Although beginning simply and having a lush vocal performance from mainly Ike Willis, the middle section is where everything gets crazy. The drumming on this piece is outstanding, and the rhythmic interplay between the drums and the bass guitar is nothing short of spectacular as Zappa belts out solo after solo (Steve Vai gets in on the action with his coveted 'impossible guitar parts' role in the band). I must say that this is probably the best Zappa song he wrote in the 1980s, nothing else he wrote can really top this (although there are a few contenders). Envelopes is a short jazzy instrumental that has some more superb work from the rhythm unit in Chad Wackerman and Scott Thunes (who plays on the bulk of the songs here). The album ends with the operatic and bombastic Teenage Prostitute (which was coupled with Valley Girl as the b-side of that single). It's a funny piece that has some great keyboard work from Mars and Martin, and it ends the album on a lighter note, just like it began.

So that in a word is Ship Arriving too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. It has a timeless feel and hasn't really aged at all, and still remains somewhat relevant even today. If I were to recommend one Zappa album from the 80s, this would probably be it (although there are a few albums that are contenders along with this one). If you want fun pieces that will make you laugh, this era of Zappa will definitely fit that bill. 4/5

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Send comments to Cygnus X-2 (BETA) | Report this review (#85961) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, August 06, 2006

Review by LiquidEternity
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars While Zappa's albums are usually somewhat tainted by a song or two that just isn't up to snuff, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is at least 50% abysmal, by the high standards Frank himself set on previous releases.

Here we have, on side one and side two, a clear separation of the two sides of Zappa's work in the early 80s. Side A is characterized by bad pop built around a too few good ideas and some terrible humor. Side B explores his carefully composed technical side, ending on a crossing point between the two. If you have You Are What You Is and think Frank tackling prog-free pop is a good idea (admittedly, You Are What You Is is, despite a painful lack of jazz and tact, a fairly decent release), then the first three tracks on Ship Arriving might be enjoyable to you. No Not Now is perhaps the most upbeat of the three, returning to the best chorus on side A a few too many times, however. Valley Girl is humorous and enjoyable, but not for as long as the song is, and it tires intensely after a few listens. I Come from Nowhere, despite the horrifically goofy vocals (not the good kind of Zappic goofery), eventually turns into instrumental music and actually features a decent guitar solo after a period of wading through some pretty poor music.

At last, side two starts. The quasi title track is primarily instrumental, following a very YAWYI-sort of vocal passage. Here, the band finally gets to shine a bit. No, it doesn't have the wonderfully creative jazz flair that mid-70s Zappa was so blessed by, but it does move along at a good clip and do some interesting things. And honestly, I'm not too sure when that song ends and Envelopes begins. Pretty sure they're more or less one song split up over two tracks. All in all, if you are interested in the Zappa band featuring Steve Vai, this is a great pair of tracks to listen to. The third piece on the second half is Teenage Prostitute. Unlike the first three songs, this one is mildly clever but very creatively constructed. It's about as close as I've found Frank coming to metal, though the operatic vocals are perhaps almost prophetic towards the late 80s and on power metal sort of scene. It may be short and simplistic, but it's a very fun tune, and a nice ending to the album.

In short, an abysmal first half and a slightly redemptive second half. It can't quite average out to, well, average, so I'm going to have to go with two stars. Fans of 80s Zappa music will find plenty to enjoy here, while those who prefer 60s or 70s Zappa may find the quality sparser. And if you do not know much about 80s Zappa, I'd recommend starting with You Are What You Is instead of this one, as that album is stronger and features a much better spread of styles.

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Send comments to LiquidEternity (BETA) | Report this review (#270300) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, March 07, 2010

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Probably Zappa's best '80s album, although you wouldn't guess that from the first two songs. This album features Steve Vai doing "impossible guitar parts". The first half seems to be studio only, while the other half sounds mostly recorded live with some studio parts. This album features some great bass work, from three different bassists. The cover art is very simple yet great and ties into the title.

"No Not Now" has some falsetto harmony vocals that might turn some people off, but I like them. The sound of the bass here is just awesome. This song is both weird and catchy at the same time. Frank mainly sings in a low talked voice. The lyrics are the typical sex oriented stuff that Frank did in the late '70s/early '80s. "Valley Girl" is of course Zappa's most well known song and his only hit in the US. Features his 14-year old daughter Moon Unit on vocals imitating the way some girls in southern California talked at the time. Lines like "barf me out, gag me with a spoon". The music is basically hard rock of it's era.

"I Come From Nowhere" has former member of the original Mothers Roy Estrada on vocals. He sings the words like he's intoxicated or got hit on the head with a heavy object. More outstanding bass work on this song. Features a great long guitar solo from Frank. "Drowning Witch" is perhaps Frank's best composition since the pre-Sheik Yerbouti days. Mostly a live recording. This song has some demented laughing in it which I assume is overdubbed. That laughing appears again in the last two songs.

The song begins in a style similar to some of the songs on Joe's Garage or You Are What You Is. After 2 minutes goes into a more complex instrumental section with the demented laughing. The marimba playing really stands out. Then a reggae-like part with a guitar solo. Drums and bass playing gets more varied. Before 7 minutes changes to a part that is probably studio recorded. Mainly laid-back music with fast guitar playing. The tempo picks up and the music gets more jazzy. After some cool synths and marimba. This part leads directly into...

"Envelopes" via a sequenced piano part. This has a steady piano figure and then guitar and marimba. The song gets more complex and the demented laughing comes back. That song leads right into "Teen-Age Prostitute", an opera-metal song. Features the female operatic singing of Lisa Popeil, daughter of Ron Popeil the infomercial guy who sells stuff ("set it and forget it!"). I think it's funny when you hear her sing: "she's only 17/ she's really sort of cute" in an operatic voice. You hear that demented laughing voice again. The song ends with crowd applause.

Not as good as his best albums from the 1970s, but better than most of what he released during the 1980s. The production and playing is top-notch. Since this album contains "Valley Girl", it's was probably one of Zappa's most well known albums during the '80s. Not something you should start with if you're a Zappa newbie, but an album you should get after the 'classics'. 4 stars.

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Send comments to zravkapt (BETA) | Report this review (#361979) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review by tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I can't help it; the album cover totally cracks me up. I never bothered to look closely at it until I started listening to this album intensely, but I laughed like hell once I got the joke, and I still giggle when I think about it. Who'd think such an effective image could be made with a box and four lines?

Great cover or no, though, this is a major step down from You Are What You Is, and it very much feels like a relative throwaway. It's a half-live, half-studio single album, boasting but six tracks, and it only lasts a little more than half an hour. More bothersome than the brevity, though, is that a lot of the album sounds confused and aimless, even if the tracks on the whole are still decent. Obviously Frank couldn't just go and make a clone of You Are..., but he might have been better served by waiting a bit before issuing a followup. This album strongly insinuates that the quality of You Are was a bit of a fluke, and that the 80's wouldn't be as good of a decade for him as the 70's were.

The studio side is highlighted by "Valley Girl," which would go down as a rather simplistic rocker were it not for a guest appearance by Frank's daughter Moon Unit, who absolutely steals the show. Her spoken imitation of a valley girl from Encino, filled with stereotypical mannerisms and phrases, mixed in with hilarious side-tracks about perverts approaching her and her ultra-gay teacher, are a total laugh riot, and the way she obviously relishes every moment makes it only more delightful. Oddly enough, this ended up being a minor-hit single for Frank, marking one of the least likely re-emergences of an artist into mainstream culture I can think of. Unfortunately, the tracks that bookend it, while showing some promise, are noticably less entertaining. "No Not Now" has an amusing high/low vocal dynamic, almost reminiscient of 60's Beach Boys, but this song would have been much better at three minutes instead of six. "I Come From Nowhere" has a neat, often fascinating instrumental backing, but the vocals just don't work in this case. I guess that having the vocalist sing in a way that doesn't work with the rest of the song was something Frank intended, but it's not one of the best ideas he ever had. Needless to say, this song doesn't work at six minutes either.

The live side is also rather uneven. I am very fond of the closing "Teenage Prostitute," where Frank has a man and woman belt out the lyrics in a fast operatic style, over a melody driven as much by xylophone as by guitar and the 80's synths. The immediately preceeding "Envelopes," though, does nothing but take up space; the busy chord and rhythm changes do nothing to keep me interested in this case. And finally, the twelve- minute title track starts off as an amusing story, and quickly morphs into a multi-part, complicated-sounding suite that sounds ... okayish. I mean, it's passable as background noise, but I've already heard enough okayish background noise passages from Frank to last me a lifetime. This doesn't even remotely measure up to something like "The Gumbo Variations," and I'm not an enormous fan of that one either (though obviously I do like it).

In the end, this pretty much defines "middle of the pack" for Zappa albums. It's good, with nothing overtly offensive about it, but except for a couple of tracks, it doesn't even remotely reach greatness either. If you can get it cheap, pick it up for "Valley Girl" and "Teenage Prostitute," but don't break a sweat looking for it.

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#365288) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, December 27, 2010

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars This album is sort of a mixed bag. Luckily, the good far outweighs the bad on this release.

The album starts with two throwaway pop songs. Strangely enough, one of them became Zappa's highest charting hit single. No Not Now is a simple, repetitive, and completely unmemorable song, with lyrics full of pop references and in jokes. I'm sure Frank found it very humorous. The hit single Valley Girl comes next. The song is listenable a few times, because of Frank's daughter Moon Unit's charming and funny valley girl impression.

The rest of the album contains some of Zappa's best music from the 80's. The down side is that he experimenting with some fairly bad vocal stylings at that time. I Come From Nowhere is a hard rocking tune, with lyrics sung off key with lame affectations. The vocals don't ruin the song, but they diminish it just a bit. Drowning Witch is an amazing epic (12 minute) Zappa piece that has a short segment in the middle of the same affected scat style vocals that bring down parts of "The Man From Utopia". This suegues into Envelopes, another simply amazing piece. Teenage Prostitute ends the album in grand style. This is another difficult, hard rocking song, featuring operatic vocals from Lisa (daughter of Ron) Popeil.

The two pop songs, and some questionable vocals can't hide the fact that this album contains some of Frank's best music of the decade.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#436275) | Review Permalink
Posted Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Latest members reviews

2 stars This ship came to early for me. This was my first Zappa album which I had saved up all the money I'd found on the floor or stolen from others to pay for and it was a massive disappointment to my naive, 10 year old self. Definitely not a good album to start discovering the intricacies of Frank ... (read more)

Report this review (#583627) | Posted by Canterzeuhl | Tuesday, December 06, 2011 | Review Permanlink

2 stars You know, Frank Zappa is absolutely my favourite artist ever. No one could write stuff like he did, and he was a brilliant guitar player. But this record, I think, is his weakest effort. It's an album that could have been good if done by someone else, but not by Zappa. For example, I can hardl ... (read more)

Report this review (#157402) | Posted by JethroZappa | Tuesday, January 01, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I think the three first songs are good, although consisting of repeating choruses - getting some usa's west coast 70's and 80's pro-punk pop music to it's utmost. And, actually they are good (also hits, but I think it and the songs are ironic, still humour not being the main idea), still prog and ex ... (read more)

Report this review (#78019) | Posted by progressive | Saturday, May 13, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album has some great tracks, but overall it's not anywhere close to Zappa's best, or an essential album. No Not Now: Catchy little tune, but I dont think this would please many progfans. Valley girl: This song was Zappa's ''hit'', just like the first song its catchy, but i dont think it ... (read more)

Report this review (#58474) | Posted by | Monday, November 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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