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Frank Zappa - Them Or Us CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.28 | 193 ratings

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4 stars I might be all wet, but I kinda get the feeling Zappa didn't really have his heart into making "normal" albums by this time. Given that his other 1984 releases were a venture into modern classical (The Perfect Stranger), a tongue-in-cheek glimpse at very average "traditional" classical, and the grossest rock opera ever made (Thing Fish), none of which had a chance of selling heavily even by Zappa standards, I can't shake the suspicion that Zappa only released this album so he could cover the cost of his other projects. The thing that stands out most to me and to a lot of other people is that the album is almost defiantly conservative by Zappa's standards; it's the closest thing he'd done to a "career retrospective" (at least post-'73) yet. The album starts with a doo-wop cover and ends with an Allman Bros. cover, and in between there's an updated version of "Sharleena," a bunch of fun pop songs with offensive lyrics, and a LOT of guitar wanking (not just from Frank; Steve Vai is a beast on this album).

Call me a plebe, but I'm fine with Zappa making a "generic Zappa" album if it's as good as this one. The aforementioned opening doo-wop cover, a number called "The Closer You Are," is given the same goofy vocal treatment that Frank had given a lot of songs in this vein, but Frank and the rest do the song totally straight otherwise (which does a number on my automatic expectations of the song turning into smut). The closing "Whipping Post" is done totally straight (though it has the same generic 80's synths that occupy much of the rest of the album), and it sounds freaking AWESOME in every way that matters. Never dismiss the idea of Zappa playing straight blues-rock! And speaking of blues-rock, don't forget the mid-tempo amusement of "In France," where the vocalist makes allusions to all sorts of bad experiences Frank's band had there, wrapping it up with the clear moral, "Never try to get your peter sucked in France." Thanks for the tip.

Moving on, "Ya Hozna" is a hypnotic processed guitar-jam filled with fake backwards vocals from various Zappa family members (Frank's revenge on people looking for Satanic messages encoded in rock music, I guess). "Sharleena" is an okay re-recording of the Chunga's Revenge number (that has an out-of-place Dweezil Zappa solo in the middle, but the absurdity makes it work), and then we come to a couple of nine-minute guitar wanks. They're good wanks, though, and while "Sinister Footwear II" is all instrumental (with Zappa credited with "guitar solo" and Vai credited with "written guitar lines"), "Truck Driver Divorce" starts off as a "normal" track (with lyrics mocking truck drivers, and a call back to "No Not Now" on Ship Arriving) before morphing into a jam for the second half. "Stevie's Spanking" is about Steve Vai's experience (I don't know if it's real or fake) with a groupie, but more importantly it features some great riffing and a pair of great solos (first from Vai, second from Dweezil) that show that, even with the sterile production that accompanied Zappa's early 80's albums, he could still put out great hard rock (of sorts).

There's not a real need to namecheck all of the rest (I'd say the cute "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips," with cool imitations of frog croakings, is the best of the rest), but suffice it to say that pretty much everything else is on more or less the same level of good as the aforementioned tracks. No, not many of the album's tracks stand out as Zappa classics, but most of them clearly qualify as "good," and that means a lot. The album may not have a lot of depth, and it may not have the best sound overall, but it's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to anybody who likes Zappa's "normal" albums in general.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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