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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars While my Frank Zappa collection spans all of his major eras, 1981's YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS just might be my overall favourite. Much in the style of JOE'S GARAGE and SHEIK YERBOUTI, this superb effort surpasses even those latter-day classics in terms of polish, consistency, and the force of its message. As an earlier reviewer has noted, fabulous vocal arrangements of Frank's hilarious, sarcastic lyrics are front and center here, and they are accompanied by very tight, up-tempo music that is all over the map stylistically.

Regarding the lyrics, let the reader beware: There is something here to offend just about everybody -- these are extremely politically-incorrect songs! If, however, you are already familiar with Zappa's music and worldview, prepare yourself for 20 great, delightfully-diverse ditties that skewer various aspects of modern American culture. Themes include whining, glue-sniffing teenage Grateful Dead fans; country music infidelity; a Goblin girl; the fashion industry; drug abuse; coneheads; culturally-confused blacks and whites; the national propensity to obesity; shallow dance club amorality; corrupt right-wing "born again" televangelists; the hypocrisy and clash of world religions; suicide; the potential costs of lowering your sexual standards; and the prospect of a female draft into the US army! Great songs are too many to list, but the ones that treat with religion are particularly strong, with some of Zappa's most cutting and witty observations ever. To quote too extensively here could well prove offensive to casual readers, so I give you these few lines from "Dumb All Over," which neatly sum up Frank's main point:

"You can't run a country by a book of religion / Not by a heap or a lump or a smidgeon / Of foolish rules of ancient date / Designed to make you all feel great / While you fold, spindle and mutilate / Those unbelievers from a neighbouring state."

Viewed in the context of America's ongoing military presence in the Middle East, this powerful and disquieting song sounds almost prescient today, and is decidedly NOT to all tastes!

Chances are though, if you're reading this review, that you already expect (and even -- GASP-- enjoy!) such shenanigans from Frank and his extensive cast of vocal acrobats and musical all-stars. YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS is not an album for the fanatically, unquestioningly religious/dogmatic, or those who are easily offended. It is, however, a highly entertaining and thought-provoking modern melding of music, humour, and free speech. An absolute MUST for Zappa's legion of fans!

Report this review (#30057)
Posted Saturday, April 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars The previous review is a hard act to follow. This really is a superb record. No single Zappa album, as a whole, surpassed this before his passing. If you hated the Reagan years, this will most likely sum up your reasons why. If you're only interested in outstanding arrangements, amazing musicians and a multiple spread of influences, this will leave you satisfied as well. The ebb and flow of this record are remarkable. Each song is spliced directly into the next and carries a continuation of lyrical themes. I would say this makes the CD release a more rewarding listening experience than the vinyl. Personal favorites: "I'm a Beautiful Guy", "Heavenly Bank Account", "Doreen".
Report this review (#30058)
Posted Monday, January 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
4 stars Very forceful message on this one. While this may not be the best he's ever done, but what it is saying just might be. The album begins slowly, but once it gets going it is some really good stuff. Deffinately less musically orinented than most, but i think it needs to be. There are some classic Zappa moments here, such as on You Are What You Is and Drafted Again. A must hear for Zappa fans. Maybe not for all though. But the message gives it that little something extra that makes it four stars. Somewhat recommended.
Report this review (#36810)
Posted Friday, June 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This double LP is one of the most easy listening and pop album of Frank Zappa. The tracks are quite short, very addictive with TONS of miscellaneous & catchy lead and backing vocals. The tracks are very rhythmic. The sound is fresh, and it is the opposite of depressing. Very well made, this record has not really ordinary moments: every track has something interesting. Very well played and recorded, this record contains loaded and dynamic music. The main strength are the tons of catchy vocals. There are some Zappa's guitar solos, but he does not seem to abuse of it here. Very funny & pleasant album!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Report this review (#39635)
Posted Saturday, July 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars FZ at his most scathing and non-PC. As another reviewer notes, the whole style of it is suprisingly uplifting, not at all depressing - you've just got to laugh even when the message being rammed home is about how dumb you - we - the general public can be. "Suicide chump" - not what you'd want to hear if you're put on hold by the Samaritans; "Heavenly Bank Account" - why not give your money to an American Bible-basher; "Jumbo Go Away" - not nice to those of us who are "big-boned"; and what can you say about tracks called "Harder Than Your Husband" or "Goblin Girl"?

As ever Frank surrounds himself with some great musicians including Steve Vai, but the album is mostly shorter, lyric based numbers. There are a few moments when Frank reminds us what a great guitarist he is - or was - probably my biggest regret in music terms was never seeing the man himself on stage.

This is a great album but if you want something that is more "prog" (or you don't want to play at best dodgy lyrics in your house for fear of upsetting your Mum/wife/children) might be best to go his more instrumental stuff like Hot Rats.

Report this review (#41499)
Posted Thursday, August 4, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Really nice double LP in the beggining of the 80´s. After Sheik and Joe´s, this one came like a quite nice surprise, with a Zappa looking much more like a band leader than the superb guitar player of the late 70´s. He´s is enjoying the band and creating some very inspiring and funny lyrics, with the style ranging from the country to the new age, and sometimes beein´ just Zappa (in 80% of the album). The arrangements are powerfull, lots of vocal parts absolutely in tune, what is a highlight here, great supporting band and, to tell the truth, the album brings a happy atmosphere troughout an hour of pure entertainment. It´s nice to hear to Zappa in 81 with the same freshness of the previous and classical line-ups and recordings. Mann, Ike, White, Sherwood, Vai, Mars... these guys brings a fantastic contribution to the entire project. Altough almost absent of virtuosism or never-ending solos (the ones present here are just fabulous, including Mann´s astonishing percussion and Zappa bizzarre chords), the album is a major contribution to Zappa´s 80´s definitive discography, what would reach a peak in Does Humour Belong in Music, including the DVD, that is very funny (altough there the band is not as good as in this line-up). So, if you like to know 80´s Zappa work, start with this one and try Ship Arriving... and The Man from Utopia, it´s enough music to realize that, even in this decade, this man could produce enough excellent rock music for a new entire generation.

A five star effort.

Report this review (#48360)
Posted Sunday, September 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars You Are What You Is, that Zappa mentality stuck with him for the rest of him career. Unfortunately, this album is not what it is cracked up to be, it is nothing more than a glorified pop-record. There aren't really any strong tracks, the melodies kind of blur together giving the illusion of one song, the vocals are weak, the lyrics are at their crudest, and Zappa doesn't even get one guitar solo. Next to Thing-Fish, this album is easily his weakest release.

Sure, there are some decent tracks, like Heavenly Bank Account and Suicide Chump, but they are few and far between. Within the 20 tracks of this album I can only find 3 songs really worth mentioning, the two mentioned before and Theme From the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear. The vocals are lush and textured, but there is no substance or soul in them, they all seem forced and unimaginative. The riffs kind of go together, they all have this quasi-reggae, overly poppy feel that doesn't even really feel like Zappa at all. Now if he had kept the original arrangement to Conehead (a little snippet is played on the Baby Snakes film), there might have been at least one track more worth mentioning.

Overall, there isn't much that this album truly is, other than a weak and otherwise bland effort from one of music's most creative talents. Fortunately, his next album would improve on this album and then some. Until someone convinces me that there is some good to it, I recommend you get this album towards the end of your Zappa collecting phase. 2/5

Report this review (#68906)
Posted Thursday, February 9, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Claims have stated that Zappa's 80's period never was that good at all but I have to disagree with this whole-heartly, and especially while listening to this album or "Ship Arriving.. ". Yes, the music is simpler and less demanding on the listener, but still very creative and humoristic. This is an extremely satirical concept album about the American societys stupid behaviours within different subjects such as drugs, teenagers and religion. Lyrically, Zappa captures these subjects perfectly through his lyrics in a satirical and rough but very entertaining style, and the music works wonderfully well together with them. The whole album has a good flow to it which never bores the listener and the music is pretty much catchy yet very good at the same time. Of course, you must like Zappa's more commercial stuff to fully appreciate this album or you might find it a bit uninteresting musically. The lyrics always stand out and still has a lot of thruth in them 25 years on.

As several other Zappa albums, You Are What You Is featured a handful of different genres spread all over, including country, reggae, fusion and hard rock and this can make this release uneven for some listeners. However, the album has such a good flow to it that you'll hardly notice actually. I must say that I wish there was a few more guitar solos here instead of only 4-5 ones, but the tight musicinaship and arrangements makes up for them. Of course, there are some tracks that could have been better, but I think this album overall deserves at least 4/5

Report this review (#73463)
Posted Wednesday, March 29, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
2 stars Of the 23 Zappa recordings I own this is perhaps my least favourite. It's not because it's commercial sounding either, because I really like "Sheik Yerbouti" a lot. This just does very little for me musically or lyrically. I don't want to be too negative and go track by track, but instead give some of the highlights for me. Oh by the way this would be the first appearance by Steve Vai on a Zappa record.

"Teen-Age Wind" is pretty funny lyrically especially the GRATEFUL DEAD references. "Doreen" features an amazing 2 1/2 minute guitar solo to end it from Vai. I like the atmospheric guitar in "Dumb All Over" and "Heavenly Bank Account" has it's moments lyrically. "Suicide Chump" is a good bluesy tune. "Jumbo, Go Away" is both fuzzy and funny. "If Only She Woulda" reminds me of THE DOORS from the sixties. Some nice guitar before 2 minutes as well.

I agree with Cygnus X-2's review for the most part, and recommend this to collectors or fans only.

Report this review (#161697)
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars My opinion of this release has changed fairly drastically, and having reread my review, I was too disgusted with the silliness of my first attempt that I have to try it all again. Even if it means a slightly less deep review than perhaps it deserves.

You Are What You Is is probably Zappa's quintessential 80s release, and perhaps his best studio work from the period. This album follows the logical progression from Sheik Yerbouti, with the clever melodies and little bits of quirk coming to dominate the previously standard jazz-infused progressive rock. You'll notice that there are a lot of songs on here, and none of them are very long. There may not be any extended pieces, but each side of the album flows together very well within itself. There are many instrumental moments, many different and eclectic styles of music presented, but not tons of soloing--but there is some, and it is done very classily. The primary focus here is vocals (and the words they sing), so if you don't enjoy vocal-oriented rock, perhaps there are better albums to go to. The lyrics frequently delve between the absurd, the sexually disturbing, and anti-religious-establishment themes. If any of those bother you any, than perhaps there are better albums to go to.

Typical of Frank's albums, the first track or two are some of the worst. The guy could never seem to get an album off the ground quickly. The music finally gets moving with Doreen, a nice little doowop type of tune. Theme from the 3rd mvt. of Sinister Footwear is entirely instrumental, and if you're familiar with the other Footwear movements, this one should be no surprise. But the real quality of the album begins with Society Pages, bolstered by a very catchy chorus. I'm a Beautiful Guy is heavier than most of Zappa's music, so fans of slightly harder hitting music should enjoy the crunchy guitar. Beauty Knows No Pain is kind of stilted and uninteresting until the outro hits--at which point we're treated to the best barbershop harmonies Frank ever put into music. A very good finish, which segues into the easygoing, upbeat Charlie's Enormous Mouth. Any Downers, which I believe is the last song on the original first LP (the whole thing was put to one disc for the CD release), unfortunately winds it down fairly weakly.

The second LP features the title track, a very upbeat, very irreverent, mesmerizing affair featuring Zappa's vocals at full tilt. The Mudd Club begins the series of songs discussing religious institutions and how Frank was not a fan. It's fairly gospelly, and soon becomes the even more scathing and more interesting The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing. And further the trend goes, with perhaps Zappa's most anti-religious song ever, Dumb All Over. Featuring cleverly flanged vocals over a Joe's Garage-esque riff, it is the first song in a while to be gifted with a guitar solo. Heavenly Bank Account takes the complains about organized religion and aims them directly at televangelists, From there, the religious statements quickly become generically vicious Zappa humor in the form of Suicide Chump and Jumbo Go Away, both good songs, but both fairly heartless as it were. The album closes on a very strong note, however, with Drafted Again. It's perhaps less initially-inspiring than many of its immediate predecessors, but a few measured listens should show you where the fun is in this release.

This is very much Zappa and somewhat hit or miss. If you know his 80s stuff and enjoy it, you'll probably like this one too. If you don't know much of his 80s stuff, this is a good place to go. If you can't stand his 80s stuff... perhaps this one isn't for you either. I would like to be able to rate it higher, but too many poor songs bring it down below the four star mark.

Report this review (#184296)
Posted Wednesday, October 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Leave it to Frank Zappa to throw a curveball like this into my evaluation of his overall career arc. Frank's post-Mothers work had been very good to this point, of course, but looking at the pattern of ratings I gave the late 60's albums and comparing that to the ratings I gave the 70's albums, it's easy to see that I've considered them a clear (not huge, but clear) step down from his initial surge (Roxy is a mild exception to that, as it would have been a ***** album without the idiotic last track). Well, it's time to break that pattern, because this is my second favorite Zappa album and is a solid *****. While I eventually became somewhat bothered by a few little things, I absolutely adore this album on the whole.

Formally, this marks Zappa's return to making "song-oriented" albums, but while this is certainly in the spirit of Overnite Sensation, Apostrophe or the non-ADD half of Sheik Yerbouti, this album really wipes the floor with all of them. It's another double album, with 20 tracks spread over 67 or so minutes, with a wide variety of styles and lyrical topics, and it really feels to me like the culmination of everything Zappa had done since taking off on his own. The songs are mostly normal at their cores, but they're so spastic and hyper and so chock-full of entertainment and ridiculous hooks (and well- produced!) that nobody in their right mind would ever call this even remotely "normal." Some of the individual songs don't hold up that well on their own, but the album is also perfectly sequenced, and the songs have a neat way of playing off each other that makes the overall effect stunning.

Take a song like "Doreen," for instance. It's a weird cross between 50's soul and 80's hair metal, and while the main part of the song is a lot of fun, it also has a way-too-long coda with a seemingly endless guitar solo, and overstays its welcome by more than a minute, which is a bad thing for a 4:43 track. In other words, it must be a weak point, right? Well, listen to the next track, "Goblin Girl" (a bit of light reggae with lyrics that make it clear this isn't about a girl dressed up to trick or treat: "When they're a goblin, I start a-wobblin,'" indeed). It has its own lengthy coda, and what should start appearing in the coda but various aspects (melody, lyrics, guitar etc) of "Doreen?" The song itself, which overstayed its welcome, doesn't know that the song is over, and is basically trying to play at the same time as "Goblin Girl." The effect kills me every time I listen to the album.

The first side, including the two aforementioned tracks, gets the album off to an extremely strong start. "Teenage Wind" is an amazingly catchy (and absolutely filled to the brim with rhythm changes and vocal overdubs) rip on slackers who essentially believe that "Freedom is when you don't have to pay for nothing or do nothing; we want to be free," and for whom freedom is huffing glue while wishing they were at a Grateful Dead concert. "Harder Than Your Husband" is a hilariously straight-laced country song with lyrics much less smutty than suggested by the glorious pun of the title, and the instrumental "Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear," while no more impressive than the average track on Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar, is still a fun listen.

The second side consists mainly of rips on the "beautiful people" of the world; the stupids who obsess over being written up in society pages, and spending too much time looking good, while they take too many drugs and eventually overdose and die. This side also introduces a pattern found on the rest of the album, which is that almost every track makes some significant mention of the lyrical matter of the track before or the track after it (and sometimes both). The funny thing to me is that the album ends up feeling like a series of mini-rock-operas about nothing, which is certainly an interesting twist on the notion of conceptuality in rock music. Of the individual songs on the second side, I'd say that I'm a "Beautiful Guy" is significantly less interesting than the others (it's really dumb in melody and lyrics, though I guess that was kinda the point), while the funky "Society Pages" and the AWESOME hard rock (with vocals as loud and powerful as can be) of "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" are high points, and the rest of the tracks are all notable too. "Beauty Knows No Pain" has a great riff that pops up repeatedly, along with a hilarious monologue from Frank about what beauty is, while "Any Downers?" has another magnificent riff with a great metallic guitar sound and funny wails in the background. Finally, "Coneheads" is an amusing tribute to one of the recurring Saturday Night Live acts of the late 70's (Frank had performed this song three or so years earlier on the show, and the skits had stopped running by the time this album came out), managing to make a fairly innocent sketch as suggestive as it probably could have been.

The third act of the album kicks off with the title track, an uptempo rocker about a white guy who tries to make himself black, and a black guy who tries to make himself white, and how they both just make fools of themselves in the end. The following "Mudd Club," then, is the album's one major misfire; it's more light reggae, but the melody isn't interesting this time, and the lyrics (which are largely spoken in Frank's Central Scrutinizer voice) are an angry rant against ... some group. Young people? Swingers? S&M people? I'm not sure. But whatever, the next few tracks leave this in the dust, as they present an eloquent rant against organized religion and televangelists and related things. I may not completely agree with Frank's lyrics in these songs (though I don't disagree as much as you might think), but in terms of making an effective argument, these lyrics are spectacular. The organy, gospel- ish "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" is largely a rant against the religious right and its influence on politics, and it would be worth it if only for the following lines: "You say yer life's a bum deal/'N yer up against the wall.../Well, people, you ain't even got no/Deal at all/ 'Cause what they do/In Washington/They just takes care/of NUMBER ONE/An' NUMBER ONE ain't you/You ain't even NUMBER TWO." "Dumb All Over," then, takes all of the anti- religious rantings by Ian Anderson, Roger Waters and whomever else and BURIES them. There's not really any significant music in the background (there's just some simplistic repetition, essentially making this Frank's version of a rap song, heh), but the lyrics alone (also delivered using the Central Scrutinizer voice) are enough to make this a classic. And finally, "Heavenly Bank Account" is even more gospel-based (though with its own share of weirdness) than "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," with a good melody in support of more bashing of Televangelists (and a spoken voiceover of one of the best lines ever written: "There's a difference between kneeling down and bending over").

The album finishes up with a return to loose conceptuality, starting with "Suicide Chump," a hilarious and catchy song about how, if you're going to commit suicide, you'd better just get it over with and do it right the first time. The song leads into the slightly disturbing but nonetheless interesting "Jumbo Go Away," a rant against a completely disgusting, VD- riddle groupie. It's bothersome that the song culminates in her getting hit, but at the same time, if anybody would deserve it, it would be this ridiculous person. The last two tracks, then, are total winners. "If Only She Woulda" is lyrically just a bridge between "Jumbo Go Away" and the next track, but the lyrics are still effective, and it has a good melody and an amusing lightweight instrumental backing. And finally, "Drafted Again" features lyrics about incompetent people getting roped into military service, with more funny vocals and some great melodies. Say what you will, but the melody to, "Wars are really ugly/They're dirty and they're cold/I don't want nobody/To shoot me in the fox hole" is freaking AWESOME, and shows that his skills as a melodist are really underrated.

On the whole, aside from weak tracks, and the fact that the album is a little too relentlessly critical and pessimistic for my tastes, this album is amazing. I guess that it could underwhelm somebody that mostly prefers Frank's more "serious" work, but anybody who goes into this with an open mind should be impressed. Heck, I'd recommend getting it first.

Report this review (#358286)
Posted Monday, December 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Now I know what I are.

Unlike it's predecessor, Joe's Garage, this one is sort of a non-concept concept album. No clean breaks between the tracks. All the songs transition directly from one to the next. If there is a unifying theme, it is people who are extremely screwed up ? teenagers, country-western philanderers, vain people, coneheads, dumb folks, clubbers, druggies, religious hypocrites, suicide chumps, jumbo women, people trying to be other than what they are, etc..

Not quite as crude as say, Joe's Garage, or Sheik Yerbouti. Probably closer in crassity to Over-Nite Sensation.

The emphasis here is more on the humor than the music. Musically you get some stuff that hearkens back to his doo-woppy material and even a country and western style piece. Bottom line, one of Zappa's more eclectic offerings musically.

Report this review (#424022)
Posted Monday, March 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arguably Frank Zappa's best satiric album since "We're Only in It for the Money". While "Sheik Yerbouti" offered plenty of Zappa's crass social satire, "You Are What You Is" seems a lot more refined, both musically and lyrically. Interestingly, Zappa also enlisted a couple of notable guest stars: Mothers alumnis Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood, Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) and slide-guitarist Denny Walley.

Through its 67-minute runtime, "You Are What You Is" manages to make fun of such subjects as cocaine-sniffing teenagers, dumb "Saturday Night Live"-sketches, posers, televangelists, religious fanatics, people wishing to commit suicide, obese groupies and military draft. Furthermore, the album is an impressive display of conceptual continuity; the songs all flow seamlessly into another, essentially forming one continous piece of music about everything Zappa thought was wrong with the United States of America in 1980. A lot of the material is still surprisingly relevant. Listen to the vitriolic "Dumb All Over" for an example.

The music is quite diverse, ranging from the 80's doo-wop of "Doreen" to the guitar acrobatics of "Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear", but the music always manages to stay on the fine line between eclectic and commercial. "You Are What You Is" might be one of Zappa's most accessible albums, but at the same time, it offers enough complexity to not disappoint fans of Zappa's more avantgardistic output. The production is also incredibly dense and the mix is often jam-packed with vocal parts.

The mix might be the only shortcoming of this album, as it marks Zappa's first major work with digital technology. As a result, the sound on "You Are What You Is" is noticeably flat and compressed to make everything stand out as much as possible. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor gripe, but nevertheless a frustrating one, since everything else gels on this album.

Despite the issues with the sound, "You Are What You Is" is highly recommendable, both to Zappa-fans and to other prog fans. While he did continue to break new musical ground till his death, Zappa would never make anything as funny as this album again. If I could give this album 4.5 stars, I would, but the album lands on a very solid rating of four stars. Now leave my nose alone, please.

Report this review (#446918)
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars While most of the music is not as complex as we have come to expect on a Frank Zappa album, "You Are What You Is" has some of his funniest, and his most biting social satire.

This album also marks the return (again) of Jimmy Carl Black, who adds lots of incidental and background vocals, and gets to sing the funniest song on the album, Harder Than Your Husband, where Zappa out- countries every country music writer. Also on this album is original mother 'Motorhead' Sherwood, who plays sax throughout.

Zappa plays a fine solo on Theme From The 3rd Movement Of Sinister Footwear, and adds plenty of his off-time, interesting compositional fills in I'm A Beautiful Guy and Beauty Knows No Pain, and a few other spots. But the highlight is really the lyrics, that strike at selfish teenagers, yuppies, drug users, politicians and organized religion.

The only lyrical miss is a pandering to Saturday Night Live, on the song Conehead

And this just may be Zappa's most singable album.

Report this review (#466479)
Posted Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars Another stab at catering to the novelty music crowd from Frank, You Are What You Is really contains very little of interest to fans of the complex progressive rock/jazz fusion material he made his name with, with most of the songs being fairly well-observed but somewhat simplistic parodies of other genres - there's even a country parody in the form of Harder Than Your Husband. The lyrics are often cited for being offensive and controversial, but to me they sound just like Frank was trying too hard to shock - and failing. (Hell, the sort of lyrics wheeled out by the Dead Kennedys or Devo in this era show more wit than the material on show here.) The songs are at least mercifully short, and Any Downers has a chunky riff behind it, but beyond that there's little to love here.
Report this review (#565804)
Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars The 1980's was a dark time for many of the progressive or psychedelic groups who originated during the heady days of the late-sixties and early-seventies, the onset of disco and punk-rock, new technologies and changing times resulting in many a career low-point. Whilst there was much fine music released during this time, precious little of it came from established acts. The likes of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and David Bowie produced some of the worst albums of their careers; prog-rock groups such as Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd transformed into purveyors of bland pop-rock. Few were immune. However, whilst the 1980's certainly wasn't Zappa's peak, he still managed to produce some truly outstanding material, making him one of the few 1960's- born acts to maintain some kind of quality control. And take into account the fact that an average Zappa album is still a work of unbridled genius, you therefore have some pretty impressive works. 'You Are What You Is', which was issued in 1981, showed that Zappa was still as potent as ever. Indeed, this awesome double-album actually counts as one of his best works, rivalling such classics as 'Freak Out', 'Overnite Sensation', 'Apostrophe', 'Joe's Garage', 'Roxy & Elsewhere' and 'The Grand Wazoo' for pure, unbridled musical audacity. Stuffed full of tunes, many see it as Zappa's last great album, and its hard to disagree. Tracks such as the soul-kissed 'Doreen', which features a wonderful vocal show from Ike Willis, and the razor-sharp, race-relation satire title-track show the great man's genius still very much in tact, whilst the hard- rockin' 'Any Downers' and the utterly brilliant 'Dumb All Over', which attacks organised religion with real venom, feature some of his finest lyrical displays. In fact, 'You Are What You Is' may just be his most eloquent release, with Zappa gleefully ripping apart such targets as TV evangelists, drug addicts, teenage rebels and politicians in a way rarely glimpsed in modern rock music. Backed by his usual array of super-talented backing players, what you have here is a supremely-weighted mixture of gold-standard musicianship and diamond-sharp satirical comment. Ultimately, this excellent album shows just how far ahead Zappa was of the competition, confirming just what a singular and unique talent he was. Definitely his best album of the 1980's, and as good as anything done previous, 'You Are What You Is' is another masterpiece from one of the greatest men of rock 'n' roll. In a word: fantastic. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012
Report this review (#876688)
Posted Sunday, December 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars YAWYI is my least favorite Zappa album. In fact after I purchased it, I became so depressed that I stopped listening to Zappa for months. There are essentially two problems here:

1) The vocals are way too far up front in the mix. I realize that this is one of Zappa's topical albums and that he wanted his message to reach his audience as clearly as possible. However, Zappa is at his most incisive when he pairs his political activism with his complex compositions. Too much of the music here falls flat like ambient noise. For example, as with the music backing Frank's voice on Over-nite Sensation's 'Dinah-Moe Humm,' the instrumentation for 'Dumb All Over'sounds canned. Other tracks, like 'Doreen,' sound like they were pulled off of an Ike Willis solo album.

2) This might seem odd coming from a Zappa fan (and yes, I am a fan of a wide spectrum of his music), but I think the lyrics to many of these songs are mean-spirited. I enjoy it when Zappa speaks truth to power or hurls cigarette butts at pretentious status-seekers. On songs like 'Suicide Chump' and 'Jumbo Go Away,' however, he's kicking the wretched of the earth while they're lying prone on the ground.

There are a few moments of inspiration here. The 'Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear' is worth hearing for its angularity and 'Teen-Age Wind' is a well-aimed kick in the crotch of 1980s Deadheads. At other moments, Zappa does briefly channel Stravinsky. I'd note where these moments are, but that would mean I would have to listen to this album again. Frankly, I'd rather move to Cleveland.

Report this review (#888465)
Posted Saturday, January 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars After the success of the great "Shiek Yerbouti" and the decent "Joe's Garage" albums, Frank had decided to work on a huge 3 disc collection of live performances called "Warts and All" but ended up scrapping that project because it got to be to lengthy. So next he decided to work on another album which was to be called "Crush All Boxes" which was to be a single disc album of mostly new studio tracks (many of which are on this album). He also decided to nix that project because he wanted to use as much as possible of the material that had been collected from all of these projects. What ended up happening was this 2 disc album and the album "Tinseltown Rebellion" which he felt would be a good representation of his talent. He also decided to work on the "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore" series and the "Shut Up and Play Your Guitar" series. All of that came to fruition. Talk about an ambitious person.

So that is that background for this album. This one ended up being mostly humorous and pop/rock oriented. Unfortunately, it tends to be an album that wears out it's welcome, not because of the material so much as the presentation of it. There are 3 lead vocalists and they are almost always singing together which causes a dense sound because the singers are all strong in their midrange, so the harmonies are very dense and heavy. The vocals are also mixed close to the front, so the instruments are not so emphasized here. After a few songs, this dense vocal sound gets old and the tracks start to sound the same.

There is only one short instrumental on this album and it is one of the best tracks on this album. It is very avant garde and has the thickness of most of FZ's instrumentals. Other than that, there are a few short guitar solos that sound great when they start, but are over way too quickly. A few of the tracks are overly repetitive and should have been faded out or ended sooner. There are several themes throughout the album and the tracks that deal with the same material are arranged together on the album. You have the usual off color humor songs, a few songs about Charlie and her enormous mouth, and several songs about religion, which are actually the better songs on here because you get some reprieve from the denser vocals, but not completely.

As much as I respect Frank and as badly as I want to like this album, it just does not live up to "Shiek Yerbouti" which was a better album by a long shot because of it's variety. That album has a little of everything and has very little wrong with it. This one is the opposite in that there is hardly any variety on it at all. I would rather listen to a full album of FZ's instrumentals or guitar solos than this thick album. The vocals are just too dense and the songs are too much all the same.

I do like a few of the tracks like the title track, "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" and "Jumbo Go Away" but 20 tracks of this is way too much. Not much prog here either, some, but not enough. I can maybe let it squeak by with 3 stars, but only barely.

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Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Essential Zappa.

One of Zappa's most accomplished and high quality albums. While not the best period in Zappa's career, this album stands out for being very musical and containing very clever lyrics, here with a few strong political and social statements. Across the entire album, every song effortlessly segues into the next, creating one continuous musical experience. My favourite side of this four-sided vinyl album is the one with Society Pages/I'm A Beautiful Guy/Beauty Knows no Pain/Charlie's Enormous Mouth/Any Downers. This group of songs acts like one larger social statement, with the main points of each song becoming the starting point for the next one. In addition to containing some of Zappa's most biting and insightful lyrics (namely about the meaning and stupidity of vanity, peer pressure, and conformity), it also is one of Zappa's most musical medleys. Side 3 also contains a great cluster of tunes in The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing/Dumb All Over/Heavenly Bank Account, which involves some of Zappa's strongest social and political critique (in this case, of the televangelical-religion industry). The twinned closers (If Only She Woulda/Drafted Again) also provide some great lyrics and strong critiques (this time of US foreign policy). Very rarely has impeccable production, quality complex music, and social/political critique come together so well. The first side, while lighter and meant more for their humour, also has some tracks that are quite musical. Why not five stars? Well, like many Zappa albums, he had to include a few crass joke tunes which are less musical and break up the flow of the music. Some of these I can't even listen to, like "Goblin Girl" and "Mudd Club" (although harmless) and "Jumbo Go Away" (less harmless, very off-putting), which detract from the great music here. If he just had kept to the highest-quality songs, this would have been a five-star album, and really the highlights are some of the most essential Zappa. As it is, warts and all, I still give it 8.2 out of 10 on my 10 point scale, which translates to 4 PA stars.

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Posted Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | Review Permalink

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