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Frank Zappa - Läther CD (album) cover

LÄTHER

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.00 | 219 ratings

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UMUR
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Läther" is a 3 disc album set released in 1996 by American experimental rock artist Frank Zappa. The album was originally intented to be released as a 4 LP box-set in 1977, but Zappa´s record company at the time Warner Bros. Records refused to release "Läther" in the format that Zappa had imagined. Supposedly because they had doubts about the commercial potential of the project. As a consequence Zappa asked to be released from his record contract in order to release the box-set as he intended, but unfortunately for him he had already delivered the box-set to Warner Bros. Records and as his contract with the record company was still four albums short of fulfillment the label edited the "Läther" box-set into four individual albums. This was done without Zappa´s consent and created a major dispute between Zappa and Warner Bros. Records. Before the label decided to release the four individual albums they held on to the recordings for over a year (Zappa had delivered "Läther" to the label in late 1976). A course of action which made Zappa so frustrated with the situation that he actually played the whole "Läther" box-set on Pasadena's KROQ radio station and instructing listeners to record it in December 1977. Therefore bootlegs of the box-set have been circulating and was until the release of the Rykodisc 3 CD box-set the only way you had a chance to hear "Läther".

So most of the material which appear on "Zappa in New York (1978)", "Studio Tan (1978)", "Sleep Dirt (1979)", and "Orchestral Favorites (1979)", originally came from the "Läther" box-set. It should be noted here that this is Gail Zappa´s version of the story and others claim that the four albums were made as individual albums and then later put together by Zappa to form "Läther". In addition to the tracks which ended up on the four above mentioned albums, "Läther" also feature tracks which would appear in alternate versions on "Sheik Yerbouti (1979)", "Joe's Garage (1979)", and on "Tinsel Town Rebellion (1981)".

While most of the material were released on the four above mentioned albums most of the "Läther" versions differ a bit from the versions on the individual albums and therefore "Läther" is still a worthwile purchase for those who already have the individual albums. Many of the tracks are also linked with snippets of mad talking and strange sound experiments in a similar style to the odd monologues and conversations on "Lumpy Gravy (1968)" and as the tracks appear in a different tracklist order and in another context than on the individual albums this gives the listener a very different listening experience. The material are a mix of live and studio recordings as is standard on many Zappa releases.

"Disc 1:"

Disc 1 opens with "Re-gyptian strut" which is a bombastic instrumental song and a great way to start the album. After this song we´re treated with both avant garde classical music on "Naval Aviation In Art?", silly (sophisticated as always of course) pop songs like "A Little Green Rosetta" and "For the Young Sophisticate" as well as some great guitar soloing (on top of what sounds like the "Whole Lotta Love" riff by Led Zeppelin) by Zappa on "Duck Duck Goose" (which also contains a sound experiment section and an avant garde classical part) and a nice little instrumental in "Down in the Dew". The hilarious "Tryin' To Grow A Chin" and "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" are up next. Both telling stories of the various griefs and challenges of social interactions between humans. Both tracks would appear in alternate versions on "Sheik Yerbouti (1979)".

"The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit" which would appear on "Zappa in New York (1978)" (shortened to "The Illinois Enema Bandit" on that album) is next. The great Ray White shines here with his elastic vocal performance and that guitar solo by Zappa is excellent stuff. This version is sligthly different to the version that would appear on "Zappa in New York (1978)" but only slightly. The song has some of the most controversial and often criticised lyrics Zappa ever wrote. The next three tracks "Lemme Take You To The Beach", "Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra", and "RDNZL" eventually ended up being side 2 of the original vinyl release of "Studio Tan (1978)" and appear here in the same order as on the original vinyl album release (The CD re-release of "Studio Tan (1978" features a different tracklist order). "Lemme Take You To The Beach" is just a great fun parody of a surf-rock song. Fast paced and with some great and well performed high pitched vocals by Davey Moire. Eddie Jobson (Curved Air, Roxy Music, UK, Jethro Tull) also appears on this song with his futuristic sounding keyboards. "Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra" is an instrumental track and a mix of classical music and rock. The instrumental "RDNZL" is a great closer to disc 1 but to my ears this studio version is not up to par with earlier and later live versions of the song. The magic isn´t quite captured.

"Disc 2:"

"Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" opens disc 2. It´s a great comedy rock song about social behaviour on a date. The track features loads of little quirky instrumental moments in addition to the funny lyrics. "The Black Page #1" (this is the version Zappa refers to as the teenage version on "Zappa in New York (1978)") is next. This is a 2 minutes long studio version. It´s really nice finally to be able to hear this extremely challenging instrumental in a studio version. Up until the release of "Läther", "The Black Page" had only appeared in various live versions. "Big Leg Emma" is a short live r´n´b track which also appeared on "Zappa in New York (1978)". "Punky's Whips" follows and it has quite an interesting history attached to it. The track was censored by Warner Bros. Records and removed from "Zappa in New York (1978)" shortly after the original release of the album. It has since been restored and appears on the CD version of that album (as well as on vinyl re-release versions). Here on "Läther" it appears in a seemingly similar version as the one on the CD version of "Zappa in New York (1978)". "Flambé" which would be re-titled "Flambay" on the "Sleep Dirt (1979)" album appears on "Läther" in a short 2 minutes long version. The version on "Sleep Dirt (1979)" is almost 5 minutes long and naturally differs quite a lot from the version on this album.

"The Purple Lagoon" is a live recording and opens with the "Approximate" instrumental track but most of the song consists of soloing by saxophone and guitar. It´s a rather avant garde/jamming live song and features a total playing time of 16:20 minutes. Those who seek adventurous playing and sonic experiments should be able to find enjoyment here. The musicianship on the track is excellent. "Pedro's Dowry" which would appear on the "Orchestral Favorites (1979)" album is classical music piece. "Läther" which is titled "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth" on "Zappa in New York (1978)" appears in the exact same version on both albums just with different titles. "Spider Of Destiny" is an instrumental track which appears here in the same version as it appeared on the original vinyl version of "Sleep Dirt (1979)" (the CD version of the song features added female vocals). "Duke Of Orchestral Prunes" closes disc 2. It´s a great orchestral version of that song. To my ears this version sounds similar to the version that appears on "Orchestral Favorites (1979)", and probably is.

"Disc 3:"

"Filthy Habits", which opens disc 3, is an instrumental track showing Zappa´s skills with feed-back. It´s a dark and menacing instrumental track. The live track "Titties 'n Beer" follows and changes the mood completely as it´s a hilarious song where Zappa and drummer/vocalist Terry Bozzio interact on a story about the devil, Titties, beer and pickles (you figure it out). "Titties 'n Beer" appears on "Läther" in the same short version as the version on the original vinyl version of "Zappa in New York (1978)". The version of "Titties 'n Beer" which is featured on the CD version of "Zappa in New York (1978)" is almost 2 minutes longer. The version of "The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution" featured on "Sleep Dirt (1979)" is 13:18 minutes long, but the version which is featured on "Läther" has been edited and is only 8:31 minutes long. It´s a bit of a crime really, to edit such a beauty of a track.

"The Adventures Of Greggery Peccery" is a fantastic 20:56 minutes long track. A mix between comedy rock and classical music with added cartoon like story telling and singing (much of the singing and narration is done in mouse style). Not only is this great fun, it´s also a challenging listen. The conceptual continuity of the track should also be noted as the character "Billy the Mountain" appears here as he also did on his eponymously titled track from the 1972 live album "Just Another Band from L.A.". "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccery" is where the original version of "Läther" was supposed to end but the 3 CD Rykodisc version features 4 added bonus tracks. "Regyptian Strut (1993)", "Leather Goods", "Revenge Of The Knick-Knack People" and "Time Is Money". "Regyptian Strut (1993)" features re-recorded drums and a different mix from the version on "Sleep Dirt (1979)". "Leather Goods" is one of Zappa´s improvised live solo pieces. It closes with the guitar solo section from "Duck Duck Goose". "Revenge Of The Knick-Knack People" is a short avant garde piece while "Time Is Money" appears to be in the same version as the one of the original vinyl release of "Sleep Dirt" (which means it doesn´t feature the female vocals of the CD version).

"Conclusion"

"Läther" is an excellent collection of Frank Zappa´s mid- to late seventies recordings and it wouldn´t be the worst place to start for a curious new listener as almost every musical style that Zappa played in those years are represented here. Some might find it a bit too diverse, but that´s the whole point when you decide to listen to Frank Zappa. I think "Läther" holds great value for both fans and the more casual listener and fully deserves a 4 star (80%) rating. The quality of material, musicianship, and production values are top notch all around. Don´t despair if you already own the albums I mentioned above. As written most of the tracks appear here in slightly different versions than on the individual albums. That fact in addition to the fact that the versions of the tracks from "Sleep Dirt (1979)" which appear on "Läther" do not include the added female vocals from the Rykodisc CD reissue (the original vinyl release of that album did not include vocals) should make "Läther" a worthwile purchase even though you own the individual albums. Especially if you only own the CD versions of said albums.

UMUR | 4/5 |

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