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Frank Zappa - Them Or Us CD (album) cover

THEM OR US

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.28 | 189 ratings

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TCat
4 stars The Frank Zappa album 'Them or Us' was a more comedic and rock record than most of the albums released around this time. It follows on the heels of one of his classical collections performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and before the not-so-great soundtrack to his odd play 'Thing-Fish', his interpretations (with only the synclavier) of music from the baroque composer Francesco Zappa, and another classical record 'Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger'. So 'Them or Us' kind of sticks out as the odd one out during this period of time, but it was also perfectly timed to break up the mostly classical releases. It would be the last studio "rock" album he would record.

This album harkens back to the more carefree feel of the 'Sheik Yerbouti' days, and attempts to borrow from it for inspiration. And it succeeds for the most part. The album includes both studio and live tracks, but, like 'Sheik Yerbouti', it is considered a studio album.

Steve Vai fans will be happy to know that this album features more of the prolific guitar player than any of the albums released while he was with Frank's band, at least on a studio level. Other band members include Chad Wackerman, Tommy Mars, and other special guests. You get a variety of music here, with the main sound being rock, but there are some avant garde pieces here too. The first three tracks are studio tracks. 'The Closer You Are' is a slow, harmonized, doo-wop song. 'In France' is a comedic take on the song 'In Cars' by Gary Numan, but making fun of the French. It is an upbeat, funky song. 'Yo Honza' is a strange, backward version of previous FZ songs 'Sofa' and 'Lonely Little Girl' played against a repeating riff. The story behind this backwards track is that there was a bill reportedly going through Congress where they were going to make it illegal to record anything backwards on an album. Of course, Frank took advantage of this and put this 6 minute backwards track on the album. At least Frank allowed Steve Vai to play a guitar solo (frontwards) towards the last part of the track over the repeating riff. Moon Unit Zappa also provides some of the backwards vocals.

'Sharleena' comes next. The basic track for this doo-wop song with a reggae beat comes from a live show around 1981 and embellishments and etc. were added later. Dweezil Zappa plays a killer guitar solo on this version which were actually edited together from 4 different performances, according to Dweezil. Next is the avant-garde, solo showcase instrumental called 'Sinister Footwear II'. The solo that takes up most of this track comes from two different shows. The first part is from Maryland in November of 1981, performed on FZ's usual Stratocaster, and the second part is from Germany in June of 1982, performed on the Hendrix Stratocaster. During the playing of the main theme here, you will notice Frank playing along with the band note for note. To most, this would sound like improvisation, but playing the same notes together proves that it is not, that it is actually a testament to the complexity of Frank's more classically-styled compositions. There are again many embellishments added in the studio. 'Truck Driver Divorce' uses a basic track recorded live in 1982 and inserts a guitar solo taken from the performance of 'Zoot Allures' from the Ritz in NYC, recorded in November of 1981. The funny, satirical lyrics are sung by Frank Zappa in a lounge style while the band improvises. The song makes fun of country songs and Donny and Marie (Hawaiian Punch commercials and string beans).

'Stevie's Spanking' is a funny track about Steve Vai's true life escapades with a acquaintance of Frank's, Laurel Fishman, written with her permission. Frank said she was quite proud of her accomplishments, which are vividly described in the song. The basic track here is culled from many different live shows. The lyrics, of course, can be offensive to the sensitive listener. Vai does the first guitar solo and Dweezil does the second guitar solo. The short track 'Baby Take Your Teeth Out' was first realized at a sound check before a concert. Frank wrote some lyrics and said to give them to Ike, 'He will sing anything'. The backing music sounds like a tropical style song. 'Marque-Son's Chicken' goes back to an avant garde style foundation recorded at one venue and pastes a FZ guitar solo from another venue on top of it. The title comes from the fact that Marque Coy (Frank's monitor engineer) hung a rubber chicken on a mic at one of the shows. The band came out to do this song as an encore (it had a different title at the time) and saw the chicken and renamed the song after him.

'Planet of My Dreams' is another short track that was originally part of a planned musical that never really came about, but parts of it was made into the album 'Sleep Dirt'. This is just another part from that musical and it is made up of edits from several different venues. It is pretty amazing how it is all brought together to sound like an expensive production. 'Be in My Video' is all recorded in studio. This is a faster style doo-wop song which is quite fun to listen to. Of course it is making fun of making MTV videos and the silly things bands would do in their extravagant videos. You should get a hold of the lyrics and follow along because it is quite funny. 'Them or Us' is pretty much a Frank Zappa guitar solo that was taken from a performance of 'Black Page 2' in Bolzano, Italy in July of 1982. This time, the backing track is all performed at the same time, and it is also a lot more complex than most of the backing music for Frank's other solos, especially the wild drums. Rumor has it that it is culled from a Bartok composition.

'Frogs With Dirty Little Lips' is another track completely done in studio. Frank said his youngest son Ahmet wrote the lyrics when he was 7, as he would walk around the house singing a different tune, but the words in the title were always the same. Frank sings it in his sinister, whispery voice. The last track is an awesome cover of the Allman Brothers classic 'Whipping Post'. At the end of a concert in Finland, the audience yelled out 'Play Whipping Post', and when Frank asked if anyone in the band knew the song, they said no. Well, Frank didn't want to let his audience down, so when Bobby Marin joined the band, Frank asked if he knew it, he said yes and sang it beautifully, so Frank told him to teach the band how to play it and have it ready for tomorrow. Zappa plays the scorching guitar solo in this version, which is taken from two different concert performances.

This is really a great Zappa album that tends to get lost in the vast array of Zappa recordings. It introduces several tracks that were concert staples to the non-concert goers and it also has a lot of great performances and variety. Some of Zappa's best albums are when he manages to bring in different styles, yet keeps the excitement going through the album. You get a good taste of many of his styles here, so there is something for every Zappa fan, excellent guitar solos, doo-wop, avant garde music, comedy and so on. This album isn't one of the best, but it is definitely far from one of the worst. 4 stars easily.

TCat | 4/5 |

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