5 April 2014
Frank Zappa - Läther
As some of you around here may have guessed by now, I have something of a musical fetish for Mr Frank Zappa and his musical adventures. I know how many years I am on this planet; I will never get to hear everything that he has created. But this is something I have heard, yet not heard. Let me tell you the brief story about this album. Back in the late 1970's Frank Zappa was having a few problems, his old manager was being a bit of douche, his old record label was falling and he signed to Warner Brothers, the relationship was not exactly happy but it was functional. In 1977 Zappa submitted an album to Warner Brothers, who rejected the album as a four disc vinyl. They wanted to release it as four separate albums - the argument went backwards and forwards, Warner Brothers agreed that the album can be released via Phonogram. However after the test print had been made, Warner Brothers renegated and claimed ownership over the music. So Zappa took one of the test prints, headed down to KROQ and got them to play the album to the world as it was encouraged the bootleggers to copy it. Warner Brothers to their disgrace then went ahead and released parts of the albums separately: Zappa In New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favourites. During the period as well, Warner Brothers and Zappa went to court and unusually for over a year there was no new albums released due to the legal issues. However in 1996, the Zappa estate released the album as it was originally intended. I will probably look at the separate releases later, but for now it is time to review the album as Zappa intended to release it.
Now for the modern release (at least the CD version) is a three disc affair, so this blog is going to be a long, long, long, long exercise in me trying to figure new ways to wax lyrical about one of my most favourite artists. The whole page looks fantastic, the photos are from the original session of the album (some of which ended up being used for the cover of Joe's Garage and I have to say that it is one of the best looking covers out of the Zappa discography. Starting with "Regyptian Strut" it seems to perfect enclose many of the different facets of Frank Zappa in one neat little package; an insane opening, an full jazz breakdown, sweeping orchestra, a xylophone solo and guitars that Jackie would use to gain charms from the angels. Following on to this is "Naval Aviation In Art?" which is an orchestra driven one minute plus pulse of terror that would not be out of place in an 1950's French horror film and is for brave souls only. Then we have "A Little Green Rosetta" which is a free falling piano entry that has Zappa repeating the title over and over again. I am not sure if it is an endurance test till the solo kicks in and then my life is affirmed again with a joyful release of intense noise and pain that I love from Zappa guitar solos.
"Duck Duck Goose" is up next which continues the path of constant change that seems to be the running theme of the album. It is a most straight forward rock moment to begin with (when I say straight forward, I mean for Zappa), then it is has a moment which hints towards to pig people which would later feature so heavily in Civilisation Phaze III. It is a changing piece again at this point and I love the fact it cannot make up its mind on what it wants to be. I can only imagine what x-factor fans would make of it (I expect it would probably be to laugh, cry or curl up into a ball all at the same time). "Down In De Dew" is an instrumental piece which is much in the line of "Peaches En Regalia" in feels, the guitars are tripping sideways in my mind and blend into a ball of spaced out jamming that has me seeing stars when I think of it too much. "For The Young Sophisticate" by comparison is slightly disappointing and straight forward. A nice enough number, but not exactly anything other than a stop gap (but again it is a given point of view of stop gap - it is just a little too straight forward for my Zappa tastes).
"Tryin' to Grow a Chin" is back in the strange noise territory to begin with, before it goes into an all out rock song. It a story about a man who wants to grow a chin, but now wants to be dead. It is funny a slightly bonkers. Next up is the original version of "Broken Hearts Are for Arseholes" which was re-recorded for Sheik Yerbouti. It is one of the all time great Zappa songs (it is certainly one of the best known numbers). It is slightly slowed down compared to the re-recording; I think that it works a lot better, much more effective. "The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit" is a live recording which sounds like a fantastic live jam from back in the day. Most of Zappa's albums have at least one recording on them that is fully live, it is the way he worked, so hearing it on here is not much of a surprise. Neither is the fact that it is a very witty and clever piece of music, which has a solo that would have many a guitarists weeping into their signature guitar cases in shame that they cannot make the guitar sing in this way. However, as well played as it is I still think there is better on the album, but what a solo!
"Lemme Take You to the Beach" is a gentle rest bite in comparison (just under 3 minutes against the 12 minutes plus of "The Legend...."). It is one of Zappa's joke moments which seems to talk about going to the beach and people with their weenies being out. I love the change in style again, you never really know what is to come on this album (or anything that is wrote by Mr Zappa). But then is changes to a strange new and weird world with "Revised Music for Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra"; this is a perfect build for the next song (more on that in a second) as it is an interest example on how Zappa saw the musical world. It was not just meant to be one style, it is meant to be a melting pot of strangeness that Zappa is the master at creating. However this track is a primer for "RDNZL" which ends the first section of this album. For eight minutes you are took through a full on jazz prog vortex. The music on offer here on this track is mind boggling; it is very close to being the best track of the album.
Starting off disc 2 (of the CD collection) is "How Don't You Want A Man Like Me", a song about the joys of having a relationship with a sensitive disco man and the joy of wanting a man like that. It ends a little sinister to be honest as the man turns out to be an arsehole when the lady says no. Not one of my most favourite numbers by Zappa, but interesting to say the least. "The Black Page #1" is another instrumental that goes off the scale of jazz weird and thankfully it is not too long either. Following up is "Big Leg Emma" that is a straight forward comedy rock number from Zappa about a lady with big legs. Imagine a more Southern American rock version of AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" with a horn section and less metal and you’re about there. Standard 12 bar blues for Zappa which is very unusual from him and again it does not outstay its welcome. "Punky's Whips" is out of the box next, which is another lengthy live number that starts with a strange story about falling in love with a photo of a guy in a band. As Zappa goes, it is not that strange to be honest; but the song all over is one of those numbers that does not quite work for me which is a shame. But not everything can work for everyone.
"Flambe" is a sort of after dinner lounge piece which is a blessed relief for these ears. Short and soothing to the soul and it really could have been around for a little longer as it is a small piece of musical meat between two large slices of Zappa's mindscape with the second being "The Purple Lagoon". This is a much more traditional piece of rock jazz solo beauty. The whole movement on here is held together by the rhythm section of Terry Bozzio on the drums and Patrick O'Hearn on bass; on this type of number the rest of the band goes wondering onto pastures that no one else will do. But the way they still get to shine by being the pulse and heart of the show here is jaw dropping. You can feel the band being in perfect motion on this number (which is something that Zappa always seems to get his band's to create - just seamless noise that makes the listener go to a different dimension in the mind. "Pedro's Dowry" has the task of following "The Purple Lagoon", a more bizarre number with the noise of a Germanic nursery rhyme gone down the twist route towards its true source material. It is not an easy number by any stretch of the imagination.
"Läther" is the next song and it originally appeared under the name "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth" on Zappa in New York. Gentler on the ear than some of the other pieces on this record, you have a more empty and subtle piece here. It is truly a fantastic insight to what was achieved by Zappa in this period. It is much better titled with "Läther" over "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth". I could be lost in this song forever, but it is alas over far too soon. "Spiders of Destiny" is next and again it is over before its time, just under three minutes in length it feels criminally short. But better to leave before the track gets old sometimes. Ending the second CD is "Duke of Orchestral Prunes" which is as strange as the title claims. It is more heavy on the orchestra that most of the album, but I found it to be a fascinating piece that brings this section of the album to a graceful and stunning close.
"Filthy Habits" is the start of album three and it is much darker in nature that what has gone on before. Something feels slight off-kilter, you have Zappa goes for those uncomfortable moments that do not make anything in the world seem to have kindness or grace. It is an evil number which is the musical equivalent of nails across the blackboard. So naturally I love it even more than life itself and it is only beat by "The Purple Lagoon" in this album. Following this you have "Titties 'N' Beer" which is a blessing and hinderers in one petite little package. There is no getting away from the fact that it is not as good a number as "Filthy Habits" but it is the right track to follow as it makes the listener feel slightly more relaxed. Sometimes the humour is there as a break and it truly works with "Titties 'N' Beer". Next is the bass driven "The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution" and it is a number that just keeps on giving. A longer version of the track appears on Sleep Dirt and it is also known as "One More Time for the World". I cannot praise this track enough, but it is only the third best track overall, if you disagree then you have a wall near you that would like to hear your complaint. Ending this album though is "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" which is a twenty minute piece of theatre. It showcases everything on the album into one track and it is also a personal favourite of Mr C Chaney (he is still here!!!). I can see why this is a favourite of many people and it is a great way to end the album.
Well, to say this has been a hard blog to do is a lie - I have found an album/box set that meets expectations. It works on a level will make fans of Frank Zappa weak at the knees. It is one of his best pieces and it also one of the great shames that it took so long to be released in the way that the artist desired. But it is also not an easy piece - sure, it is no Jazz from Hell or ...Meets the Mothers of Prevention, but it is a long endurance test for any listener what with it being over two and a half hours long. It is not something that you slip on to ease away the aches of the day. It is also an album that should not be someone’s first step into this crazy world; it is not friendly and at times creeps even me. Out of the Zappa albums I have had the pleasure of reviewing I can honestly say that this one is truly ground breaking, bonkers and out there. Tread carefully dear listener, tread carefully.
Top Track - The Purple Lagoon
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the offical Frank Zappa website here
You can listen to the album on Amazon here
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