Author Topic: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #39 - 'The Perfect Stranger'  (Read 40796 times)

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Offline Mosh

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #665 on: April 25, 2017, 04:11:36 PM »
Now we're in uncharted waters for me. I've hardly spent much time with 80s Zappa and You Are What You Is is the first album so far that I've never listened to before. Will get to it either today or tomorrow, but so far it looks like a similar sort of structure as Them Or Us (which I have heard). My expectations are somewhat low, but we'll see what happens.

Anyway, one day I turned on MTV and there was the video for "You Are What You Is", the song.  I thought it was fun.  I also specifically remembered an interview with Frank wherein he spoke against music videos because it would lead to music which "looks good" versus music that sounds good, so either he was being a hypocrite or he eventually embraced the medium because he more or less had to to stay relevant.  Or perhaps, like so many other things, he thought it would be interesting to try, and who cares what he'd said before?

FZ's relationship with MTV always seemed interesting to me because while he spoke out against music videos he was really one of the first to embrace the medium in a musical way. I think his problem was more that the music videos often had nothing to do with the music, which devalued the music some. Also, I think Zappa was always open to new technology, but he always did things his way. Never paid much attention to his videos so I don't know how much that applies here, but the claymation stuff in the 70s was innovative at least.
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Offline Orbert

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #666 on: April 25, 2017, 05:39:46 PM »
I remember Frank's comment about music videos leading to music that "looks good" rather than "sounds good" because I happened to agree with it 100%.  When all you had was radio, you heard 100 different songs a day and often had no idea what the artists looked like unless you saw them on TV or maybe in one of those music magazines.  Or of course if you bought the album, but you couldn't buy every album that came out.  The point is that music is an audio art form, and it therefore (IMO) should be evaluated strictly on how it sounds, not what the performers look like.

With the advent of music video, it seemed completely possible, and actually quite likely, that we'd get singers who can't sing worth a damn but look great, and bands who kinda suck but have awesome stage shows, and all that.  Bands or singers who are ugly can just have a music video which tells a story and you never have to see them.  And in every case, people will watch the videos over and over, during which time the song worms its way into your brain, and pretty soon you're going around humming the tune, and then the next time you're at the record store, Hey, there it is!

And of course that's exactly what happened.  Frank often referred to himself and an ugly person, weird, etc., and I can see how his reaction at first would be to despise a medium that seemed to emphasize what the music "looks like".  But he was an artist first, and artists gotta make the art, so he did videos.

I forgot about the claymation stuff.  I saw some on The Dub Room Special DVD, and thought it was all pretty weird shit, but it did its job.  It gave you something interesting to look at while you listen to the music.  I don't remember much about the "You Are What You Is" video except that it just seemed like the band lip-synching to the song and goofing around while the cameras rolled.  There may have been more to it than that, but I don't remember.

Offline Mosh

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #667 on: April 25, 2017, 06:11:08 PM »
I just watched it, looks like it's at least somewhat related to the lyrics. But it does seem more like he saw videos as a necessary evil and put together something with low effort.
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Offline Mosh

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #668 on: April 25, 2017, 09:56:29 PM »
Well this actually wasn't too bad. I liked the way the songs all seemed to be connected in some way or another, at least from side to side. There were some genuinely good tunes on here. I actually found myself thinking of early Mothers material, which was largely satirical takes on pop music. JCB's presence definitely pushed that comparison for me. Unfortunately, the album also lacks the quirky bizarre sound of albums like Freak Out. There's a blandness to much of Frank's 80s work. Everything sounds crystal clear and clean. It's almost too clean.

My favorite Zappa albums are the ones that give you a wide variety of music. YAWYI feels too one dimensional to me. There aren't very many guitar solos and most of the songs follow a similar structure. The lyrics continue the decline that started (IMO) with Joe's Garage. Tinseltown Rebellion worked for me because there was a sampling of just about everything.

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #669 on: April 26, 2017, 01:50:19 AM »
Frank's relationship with MTV was ambiguous, to say the least. He scoffed about it, then performed about a half hour live material which MTV aired, pretty much uncensored. There's something about it in the liner notes of YCDTOSA vol. I, I believe. I think he viewed it and 'music video's' as a form of media, and Frank LOVED using the media.
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Offline darkshade

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #670 on: April 28, 2017, 02:06:48 PM »
You Are What You Is. The interesting thing about this album is some see it as the last great studio Zappa album, but it's also the continuation of the post-Joe's Garage 'sound'; a series of rock/pop albums with mild dashes of jazz-fusion or 20th Century classical mixed in. They all kind of have a similar vibe to each other, as has been mentioned before (imo SYB and JG have enough personality of their own, but I understand if you group them in with the early-mid 80s albums.) This is the only album with drummer David Logeman, replacing Vinnie Colaiuta, but otherwise just about all the usual suspects on most of Zappa's 80s rock albums are here, including Steve Vai, Arthur Barrow, Ike Willis, etc...

This album was an album I did not get into for a long time, but eventually I did. As I said earlier, much of the 80s/90s Zappa is for more experienced Zappa fans, and most of it is not as accessible or popular as the 60s and 70s albums. You Are What You Is gets a bad rap by association and because it was released in the 80s, but I think it's one of his most underrated albums, you kinda get everything in this album, it's funny, it's got sociopolitical commentary, it's got dead serious prog/classical/jazz-fusion, great guitar solos, minimalist passages, metal shredding, all insanely wrapped up in this very upbeat, energetic album by Frank. The 'N-word' is even dropped on this album.

I like the flashes of Country in Harder Than Your Husband, and the sneaky prog on the opener. The Beautiful Guy suite is fantastic, an underrated piece. Prog, jazz, Zappa craziness throughout. I love the segue into Conehead, which is a funky tune, and live versions from the 70s are really funky. The title track is great, if a bit repetitive. There's some cool little syncopated moments though, and features a great Zappa guitar solo with dat funky bass line. You could say Frank is dipping his toes into hip-hop in Dumb All Over (and wouldn't be the last time), in only a way Frank could. I always get a kick out of the "At the House of Representatives" line during Heavenly Bank Account. Suicide Chump is very controversial lyrics, but on top of great blues rock. One of Frank's strengths was always blues and R&B. I prefer the 1980 funky single version of "Drafted Again" which was released under the title "I Don't Want To Get Drafted", which can be found on The Lose Episodes, which we haven't gotten to yet in this thread. The version here is funny though.

There's a lot of music here, and though you could call this a "stripped down" kind of a, sort of a commercial album by Frank Zappa, it's still more crazy and complex than 99.99% of commercial/pop music out there. Zappa was moving in a direction that some don't like, or only like some things. Personally, I think he was still at the peak of making rock albums, as he had been making since Zoot Allures, and doesn't start slipping until a The Man From Utopia, a few albums later. However, I think a lot of people are turned off by the lyrics and vocals of this era of Zappa's work, and I mean, I get it. But I appreciate the 80s stuff more as I get more experienced with Zappa's music. There's gold throughout the decade, and repeat listens really do reveal their beauty.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2017, 02:23:47 PM by darkshade »

Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #671 on: April 28, 2017, 02:17:59 PM »
I must say that especially this record (but a couple ones that are coming soon) have been surprising me. I've always thought there was nothing interesting in them. But of course with Zappa there is. I'm starting to look forward to listening to the last couple of Zappa albums that I've never really dived into. Next one will be on here soon!
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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #34 - 'You Are What You Is'
« Reply #672 on: April 28, 2017, 09:22:26 PM »
Some stuff did stick out to me. Doreen is a great track with a ridiculously long outro. The tune itself is interesting, it's a basic I IV V progression but the vocal melody is playing with the harmony. Also Ray White (?) slays on his vocal performance.

I'm surprised at how much I like Harder Than Your Husband. How awesome is it that he got JCB for that tune? Love his vocal there (and his backing vocals on other tunes). What's the story on that btw? I know former band members were always making the odd guest appearances this one in particular is especially unexpected.

The religious suite is a little too heavy handed on the lyrics and Meek Shall Inherit Nothing isn't quite as effective as Harder Than Your Husband, but hearing Frank's take on gospel with Heavenly Bank Account is entertaining. That's a cool tune.

OK maybe the album is growing on me. Looking back on it there was a lot of stuff I really liked. Going to try and play it one more time before we move on.

Most of my familiarity with You Are What You Is actually comes from the Torture Never Stops DVD. I didn't realize this until today (which is why I didn't mention it before) after watching the DVD again. There's a ton of material from this album and it's mostly played in the same order as on the album. I don't think I've ever heard Frank do a performance with a setlist so faithful to a studio album before.

Anyway, it's cool seeing all the positive comments on this album. I'm going into his 80s albums optimistic, already finding some gems. There is one album coming that I'm really fond of, but more on that later.
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Offline Nihil-Morari

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Official Release #35 - 'Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch'
(Released 05/1982)



Background Information:
After You Are What You Is, Zappa planned to release a double live album called Chalk Pie, but the label wanted shorter albums instead of long multi-record sets. (Does this sound familiar?) The songs on Chalk Pie have almost all been released (about 5 or 6 tracks were either not released or are not recognisable due to the amount of overdubs on later releases). The first side of Chalk Pie became side two of ‘Drowning Witch’. The first side of ‘Drowning Witch’ are three studio recordings featuring ex-members Bob Harris, Roy Estrada and a couple of old bass players (Arthur Barrow and Patrick O’Hearn), while you can hear the 81/82 band on side two.

The Album Itself:
The studio bit (side one, or the first three tracks) of this album consists of three upbeat songs. All three tracks focus on vocals, on No Not Now Bob Harris’ ‘boy soprano’ shines, on Valley Girl Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit mockingly improvised the language she heard around her, and I Come From Nowhere features weird processed vocals. When asked what the track is about, Zappa responded: ‘It's, well, I think that people who smile too much are … dangerous, and that's a song about people who smile too much.’
Side two is totally different. It’s recorded live (with overdubs), the tracks Drowning Witch and Envelopes are mostly well composed instrumental tracks, with insane instrumental bits. How insane? “Do you know how many edits there are in "Drowning witch"? Fifteen! That song is a basic track from 15 different cities. And some of the edits are like two bars long.”
The liner notes, written by Zappa himself, are in the form of a hilarious Marketing Overview, with quotes like: “There’s only 6 songs on the album, and you probably won’t enjoy any of them”, “The release of a single would seem to be a waste of money… and that’s all we really care about (it’s the thing that sort of sets us apart from the Communists)” or “Because they do not follow the same demographics as Loverboy and Van Halen, expect no support on the West Coast”.
Another thing that’s apparent, is that it’s a short album. It’s Zappa third shortest album after Apostrophe and Orchestral Favorites. A possible explanation is the trouble with the record label wanting a shorter album, while Zappa wanted to re-use that material for future albums.

Essential Tracks:
Valley Girl
Drowning Witch
Envelopes
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Offline darkshade

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I've always had a sweet spot for Ship Arriving Too Late Too Save A Drowning Witch. It was one of the few 80s albums I liked in my early Zappa listening days. It's the closest Zappa came to making a metal/hardcore punk album. Check out some of the riffs throughout the albums. This is the first appearance of Chad Wackerman drums and Scott Thunes on bass, who would be the main rhythm section for the rest of the 80 live bands, and appear on much of the rest of the 80s albums. Wackerman handles all the drums here, replacing David Logeman, while Thunes appears on Valley Girl and the last 3 tracks. This is the first year (1982) that there was only one Zappa release since 1976 (though '77 and '80 saw no FZ releases.)

Arthur Barrow returns again on the opener and it's a bit of a repetitive number, but Barrow plays some sweet slap bass. Valley Girl is definitely weird, but heavy riffs abound. It's definitely a strange first track to appear on for and Thunes. I don't put this song on by itself, but it usually makes me chuckle when I'm going through the whole album. Next up is I Come From Nowhere, which is a cool track that might scare you off at first on first listen because of the vocals. But there is some serious riffage going on, and Zappa busts out a pretty cool solo later on, and there is a Big Swifty tease during the solo as well. Patrick O'Hearn returns for some nice bass work.

Side Two starts with the 'title' track, Drowning Witch, which I feel is Zappa's best composition from the 80s. It's hilarious, has classic Zappa 'eyebrows', even sardines in those eyebrows. And smelling very bad. But in all seriousness, this was one of the hardest Zappa compositions to nail live, and this 'studio' version is cut from 15 different edits from other shows. The instrumental section before the guitar solos is one of the most maddening, and thrilling, sections of Zappa music. The first solo is by Steve Vai I believe (I could be wrong). The second one is Frank, which is preceded by another short instrumental composed section. Envelopes follows, which is one of Zappa's classical compositions played by rock band, and this song dates back to at least 1978. It's a very technical number. The last song is Teenage Prostitute, and if this isn't the blueprint for many System of a Down songs, I don't know what is (Serj Tankien is a known Zappa fan, even looks like him sometimes.)

Like I said, I like this album, some may not, but it's pretty short as previously mentioned, I've listened to single songs that were longer.

About Chalk Pie, the only track that didn't make it to any albums is Clowns On Velvet, which features " another great Italian, Al Di Meola ladies and gentlemen." I'm pretty sure the other ones with unfamiliar titles are on "Guitar" under different titles. Also, the album would have only been an hour and 10 minutes long, which is basically standard length for a CD (SATLTSADW was right before CDs I think) Chalk Pie is available for free on the Zappateers web site. It's a neat listen, and all the tracks have different mixes compared to their officially released versions.

Offline Orbert

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Argh, I'm falling behind on this discography, too!

"Valley Girl" was fun and silly.  I remember hearing it on the radio and thinking it was fun and silly, and was glad that Frank was getting airplay and therefore hopefully making some money.  He didn't actively seek either of these things, but the money part would at least help him out, and I always liked the idea of musicians I like actually achieving some kind of commercial success, whether they liked it or not.

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I didn't originally like You Are What You Is, but I can listen to it and enjoy it now...although, it is more than just a bit mean spirited so the satire doesn't appeal to me as much as earlier works.

Other than Valley Girl (which I don't hate), I love Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. Drowning Witch, the song, is the ultimate 80's FZ tune. I could easily listen to it on a continuous loop. Indefinitely.

Offline Cyclopssss

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I remember seeing this one in the record store back in the day, say, late eighties/early nineties. I didn't know what to make of it because the artwork was so simplistic, which is something I wasn't used of Zappa at all. Also, didn't know any of the songs. When I bought it and put it on at home, needless to say, my mind was blown yet again. I remember laughing really hard out loud at Valley girl and the lyrics to I come from nowhere. The title song was classic live eighties Zappa and had me laughing as well, as did Teenage Prostitute. Great album, a bit of everything really.
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Offline Orbert

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The cover art is from an old, old joke.  It's one of those things where they give you simple line drawings and you're supposed to figure out what it is, and it's never obvious, but once you know the "correct answer" then you can see it.

Offline darkshade

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Valley Girl was Zappa's biggest hit, Frank discusses it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIQpAEKkk5E

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Apparently, the name of the song is "Valley Girls".  He says so in the clip.  Many times.  (And is wrong every time)

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Another album I haven't heard before, although I'm familiar with Valley Girl.

The cover art is from an old, old joke.  It's one of those things where they give you simple line drawings and you're supposed to figure out what it is, and it's never obvious, but once you know the "correct answer" then you can see it.
 
I like the cover. It's minimalist but also very 80s, but pleasing to look at either way. I also like how the two figures look like the letters 'Z a'.

After You Are What You Is, Zappa planned to release a double live album called Chalk Pie, but the label wanted shorter albums instead of long multi-record sets. (Does this sound familiar?) The songs on Chalk Pie have almost all been released (about 5 or 6 tracks were either not released or are not recognisable due to the amount of overdubs on later releases). The first side of Chalk Pie became side two of ‘Drowning Witch’. The first side of ‘Drowning Witch’ are three studio recordings featuring ex-members Bob Harris, Roy Estrada and a couple of old bass players (Arthur Barrow and Patrick O’Hearn), while you can hear the 81/82 band on side two.
I thought Zappa was working pretty much independently at this point? What label was he having troubles with? Never heard of this Chalk Pie thing before so I'm curious if there's more story there.

I actually liked this album quite a bit. This is the first single disc LP since Orchestral Favorites. First since Zoot Allures if we don't count the unauthorized Lather albums. I actually thought it was a nice relief to go back to the shorter album format. Long albums are fun but they can be exhausting to listen to. This album was packed with content. It hits hard and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Love the studio/live album hybrid format. Side 1 is a lot of fun. Valley Girl seems to be a tune that the hardcore Zappa fans turn their noses up at but I like it a lot. Moon's improv is hilarious. The music is pretty pedestrian but it's not too bad. I can imagine maybe getting tired of this being played on the radio all the time in the 80s, but I wasn't there and I rarely listen to this song so that doesn't make much of a difference to me.

The other two tunes are cool. No Not Now is a little repetitive but I really dig the guitar tone. It's a fun track. I Come From Nowhere was love at first listen. I can see how the vocals might be off-putting but I thought they were perfect. I was already sold on the song but then Zappa comes in and totally rips one of the best solos I've heard from him. After hearing countless FZ guitar solos by now, it's pretty insane that he can still blow my mind. I'm assuming this is xenochrony at work? If so this is the best use of xenochrony since Inca Roads. He's really mastered it by now.

Side 2: I heard about Drowning Witch being one of his most insane pieces, I still was not prepared for what came. It has a little bit of everything. The opening vocal parts remind me of The Blue Light. The instrumental is just nuts. It's extremely complicated but also really exciting. It actually reminded me of The Dance of Eternity. The way all the parts are very carefully pieced together yet it also goes all over the place. Like organized chaos. Amazing tune, the whole album is worth that for the title track alone.

The last two pieces are cool but I am still recovering from Drowning Witch so I haven't fully digested them yet. Envelopes is an interesting tune, Teen-Age Prostitute is OK.


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Offline Nihil-Morari

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Yeah, you're right about the label. He was working independently.

Upon rereading (https://www.lukpac.org/~handmade/patio/weirdo/unreleased.html#chalkpie) it says 'they' wanted something shorter. Possibly he had a financial man, or it could've been a demand of the distributor. Maybe Zappa could see why another double album wouldn't work, so that it wasn't like he couldn't bring out another double album, but someone advised him not to.
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The cover art is from an old, old joke.  It's one of those things where they give you simple line drawings and you're supposed to figure out what it is, and it's never obvious, but once you know the "correct answer" then you can see it.
 
I like the cover. It's minimalist but also very 80s, but pleasing to look at either way. I also like how the two figures look like the letters 'Z a'.


...and a 'p' lying sideways. ^     That way you have all the letters to Zappa.

Offline Orbert

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Another album I haven't heard before, although I'm familiar with Valley Girl.

The cover art is from an old, old joke.  It's one of those things where they give you simple line drawings and you're supposed to figure out what it is, and it's never obvious, but once you know the "correct answer" then you can see it.
 
I like the cover. It's minimalist but also very 80s, but pleasing to look at either way. I also like how the two figures look like the letters 'Z a'.

I didn't see the "Za" until much later, because I was already familiar with the joke, but I see now that it's there and intentional, reinforced by the way "Zappa" is written above it.  The triangle is definitely meant to evoke the letter "a".

Offline Mosh

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Yeah, you're right about the label. He was working independently.

Upon rereading (https://www.lukpac.org/~handmade/patio/weirdo/unreleased.html#chalkpie) it says 'they' wanted something shorter. Possibly he had a financial man, or it could've been a demand of the distributor. Maybe Zappa could see why another double album wouldn't work, so that it wasn't like he couldn't bring out another double album, but someone advised him not to.
Makes sense. No matter what he said about not caring if people listened to his music or not, he was a business minded guy who knew that he needed to sell records. Could've also been a sense of a missed opportunity with You Are What You Is, being some of his most accessible material (and an MTV video) but double albums are always a tough sell.

Cool site btw, going to read through that whole page this week.
Another album I haven't heard before, although I'm familiar with Valley Girl.

The cover art is from an old, old joke.  It's one of those things where they give you simple line drawings and you're supposed to figure out what it is, and it's never obvious, but once you know the "correct answer" then you can see it.
 
I like the cover. It's minimalist but also very 80s, but pleasing to look at either way. I also like how the two figures look like the letters 'Z a'.

I didn't see the "Za" until much later, because I was already familiar with the joke, but I see now that it's there and intentional, reinforced by the way "Zappa" is written above it.  The triangle is definitely meant to evoke the letter "a".
Funny how the brain works, I immediately saw the "Za" and didn't realize it was the witch until reading about it.
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Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #686 on: May 08, 2017, 02:45:11 AM »
Official Release #36 - 'The Man From Utopia''
(Released 03/1983)



Background Information:
The vinyl and CD versions have very different track lists. On the CD version Cocaine Decisions is longer than the original vinyl version, while Moggio and Stick Together are shorter. The CD version has a ‘bonus track’ embedded in the album. ‘Luigi & The Wise Guys’ wasn’t on the original album, but somehow ended up on the CD version. A strange track, apparently making fun of a crew member, was recorded in Zappa’s home studio around 1981. A couple of other tracks (‘The Dangerous Kitchen’, ‘The Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ and ‘Moggio’) were originally intended for the unreleased ‘Chalk Pie’-album.
The back of the album is a reference to the infamous Italian riots from 1982 (as documented on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore vol. 3 & 5) where the band found themselves in the middle of a Sicilian civil war.

The Album Itself:
The Man From Utopia is a diverse album, even to Zappa’s standards. Tracks like ‘The Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ and ‘The Dangerous Kitchen’ are more spoken comedy pieces than songs, pieces like ‘SEX’ and ‘Stick Together’ are cool pop tunes while ‘We Are Not Alone’, ‘Think Walks Amok’ and ‘Moggio’ are upbeat instrumental difficulties. While not as dense as pieces like ‘The Black Page’ or ‘Echidna’s Arf’ they match those pieces in technical difficulty, while remaining fun songs.
Steve Vai has a central role on this album. The way he doubles Zappa’s improvised semi-crooning is unparalleled.

Essential Tracks:
The Radio Is Broken
We Are Not Alone
Stick Together
The Jazz Discharge Party Hats
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Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #687 on: May 08, 2017, 04:07:24 PM »
Let me start off by saying that this is another 80's album that surprised me. Usually I would go from listening to Apostrophe or Roxy to trying an 80's album. That way the difference would be huge, and I rarely enjoyed listening to albums like this one. The funny thing is that by doing this project/threadject I'm beginning to 'get' these albums more and more. There's still stuff on here that I don't like, and a lot of things drag on way too long, but I'm starting to dig the sound.
‘We Are Not Alone’, ‘Think Walks Amok’ and ‘Moggio’ are awesome, and the spoken word stuff is actually funny, even after listening to this album 5 or 6 times in the last couple of days.
This record actually made me buy the Puttin' On The Ritz bootleg LP's, a complete show from 1981, that I never had any interest in, but that I'm really digging right now.
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Offline Mosh

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #688 on: May 08, 2017, 09:36:24 PM »
I ordered this last week and it just shipped, so hopefully it gets here in the next few days.

I am familiar with We Are Not Alone and that song is awesome. I've heard mixed things about this album but I'm actually looking forward to it.
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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #689 on: May 09, 2017, 01:30:07 AM »
This one was definetely a 'miss' for me. I really didn't like very much tracks that are on it and without the inside knowledge we were to get much, much later (like in 1988 or something) I did not get the artwork at all. I'd have to go back for another listen, but not much on this stood out very much for me.
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Offline darkshade

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #690 on: May 09, 2017, 09:16:29 AM »
The Man From Utopia is the next in the series of early 80s post-Joe's Garage rock/pop/jazz-prog albums. It's is an interesting one. This is when many see Zappa's rock albums began to decline in quality, as Zappa was putting more effort into other projects (that we'll be getting to soon...) and the humor wasn't as funny as before, which may also be because this small era of Frank's rock albums were seemingly made to appeal to the fan base, so the album sales would help finance Zappa's more serious 80s works.

I didn't check this one out for years, and I didn't care for it at first either. A few years later when the 2012 reissue of the Zappa catalog was happening, I went back and loved it. There is a lot of good stuff, but there's a lot of questionable things too. It's definitely one of Frank's most polarizing albums. It's a fast paced album, and the instrumental tracks are essential Zappa.

There are two versions of the album, the CD version, and the Vinyl which has a different mix and track listing. [from Wikipedia]The album was originally released on vinyl in 1983. An unauthorized CD of this edition (with the exception of a remixed "Moggio") was issued by EMI in the UK in 1986. The album was issued (in remixed and re-sequenced form with one additional track) on CD in 1993 by Barking Pumpkin. The later 1995 Rykodisc edition and the 2012 Universal Music Group release are identical.[]

The album opens with Cocaine Decisions, which is a solid 80s Zappa tune. Lots of cool keyboard runs. Nice harmonica playing. Zappa's done funnier lyrics, but this one is pedestrian. Next is SEX, which is exactly what it's about. The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin' is probably not going to please fans of RDNZL or Inca Roads. Before you know it, the next track, the instrumental Tink Walks Amok, has started. This tune is awesome. Great bass work from Arthur Barrow, crazy time signature changes. the avant-garde, punkish The Radio is Broken uses the technique Zappa did a lot in the 80s, use what's called Sprechgesang speech. Songs like this, or The Blue Light, or some stuff from Shiek Yer Bouti for example. Original Mothers Roy Estrada returns again to provide vocals along side Zappa. Steve Vai is all over this track too. However, songs like this is what turns off even some hardcore fans, the vocals are beyond silly. I think this track is what many people think of when they think of The Man From Utopia, forgetting all the other great stuff spread throughout the disc.

Next up is another instrumental, We Are Not Alone, and it's a big reason I prefer the CD version over the vinyl, for the track listing, the flow is better imo. The instrumentals break up the madness surrounding them better. This tune has some great catchy sax themes. The Dangerous Kitchen is another Sprechgesang tune, and while it's better than The Radio Is Broken, and jazzier, it's still something I don't put on unless I'm listening to the whole album. The subject matter is kind of gross. The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou is an R&B Zappa tune. Stick Together is a reggae tune about unions. This song was played live a lot in the 80s. Both of these tunes are pretty pedestrian tunes for Zappa, nothing too offensive, except a couple of cusses here and there. Nothing really dissonant.

The Jazz Discharge Party Hats is one of the strangest Zappa tunes. Yes, it's completely jazz, post-bop, but with incredibly dirty lyrics in Sprechgesang speech. This is the best of the 3 on this album, as musically, if you pay close attention, is quite impressive, and very complex. This track is obviously recorded live, with overdubs, but it's still amazing what the live band could pull off. Zappa himself even admits this is kind of a weird song, but says "come on, it's the 20th Century!" Next is Luigi and The Wise Guys is a doo-wop song, and is technically a bonus track, as it wasn't in the original release of the album, so it's not available on the CD vinyl mix. The album ends on a good note, with the final instrumental Moggio, and probably the best tune on the album. Crazy guitar and keyboard parts all over this one, this became a staple of Zappa's 80s live bands. Conceptual Continuity had to appear sooner or later, and we get to hear the Uncle Meat pig snorts at the beginning, and we then enter prog-jazz-fusion land for another 3 minutes, barely. This is one of those tunes I can't help do 'air-keyboard'. Last bit of pig snorts and the album is over. It took me longer to type this up than it took to listen to this short, and hit or miss, album. This album is worth it once you've gotten into dozens and dozens of other Zappa albums and you can't get enough Frank in your life.

Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #691 on: May 09, 2017, 09:32:44 AM »
"musically, if you pay close attention, is quite impressive, and very complex"

Well, Darkshade, musically it isn't very complex. It's a live free-jazz style improv, where Zappa filled the time talking over it (during the collecting of panties, see Tinseltown Rebellion). The only thing musically interesting is how Steve Vai managed to overdub everything Frank said. That must have taken him quite some time, since overdubbing was a bigger (and technically much harder) thing then than it is nowadays.
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Offline darkshade

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #692 on: May 09, 2017, 10:30:55 AM »
"musically, if you pay close attention, is quite impressive, and very complex"

Well, Darkshade, musically it isn't very complex. It's a live free-jazz style improv

That isn't complex??? Definitely more complex than rock/jam band improv.

Also, the way the overdubbed guitar solo reacts to what the rest of the band are doing is pretty crazy.

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #693 on: May 10, 2017, 08:34:47 PM »
I still haven't listened to this one, but I've always loved the cover.  Buff, muscled Frank, crushing the neck of the guitar in one hand, boldly wielding a flyswatter in the other.  I should listen to this sometime.

Offline darkshade

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #694 on: May 10, 2017, 10:05:59 PM »
I listened to the vinyl mix earlier, and while I like the difference in sound, I still prefer the CD mix. The vinyl mix doesn't sound as full to me, but some parts are more accentuated and have alternate parts in some songs.

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #695 on: May 14, 2017, 09:35:20 PM »
We Are Not Alone is one of my all time favorite Zappa instrumental tracks. I actually know it from the Cheap Thrills Ryko CD, which was the second Zappa CD I bought (after One Size Fits All). I didn't really care for most of the stuff on that disc, but this song really blew my mind. Loved the marimba bridge. It's fairly simple for Zappa standards, but it's such a catchy melody and has a fantastic buildup. I will say that his instrumental compositions have improved quite a bit in the past few albums.

The rest of the album is quite the mixed bag. The instrumental tracks are excellent. Like I said, I feel he really improved in this area during the 80s. The arrangements just seem more creative. The Sprechgesang stuff is really impressive. They're not really songs that I would casually listen to, but they grab my attention on the album. I also really dig Luigi and The Wise Guys. Roy Estrada's presence alone almost makes it feel like a classic Mothers track. Interesting to see the doowop influence slowly work its way back into the Zappa arsenal. He seemed to abandon that after breaking up the original Mothers. The vocal melodies on Cocaine Decisions reminds me of a prototype version of We're Turning Again. Conceptual continuity?

The rest of the album is enjoyable but nothing too special. Overall though I was pleasantly surprised with this album. I've seen it ranked among the worst he's ever done and I'm not sure if that's fair. But I also haven't heard a Zappa album I truly disliked (still haven't heard Thingfish) so take that for what it's worth. Definitely wouldn't recommend to a new fan though. I could agree with it being more something to check out once you've heard most everything else.
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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #696 on: May 15, 2017, 01:01:40 AM »
Cocaine desisions was one of my favourite tracks on YCDTOSA vol 3. I think it's way better then the studio version (that is, until the gas grenades explode)  :D The follow up track Nig Bizz (which is not on Man from Utupia, btw) is even better and more impressive, as Ike was singing while choking on teargas...
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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #697 on: May 15, 2017, 06:28:25 AM »
We're not there yet, but we're getting close... How do we treat the upcoming box set "The Old Masters" vol I, II, and III? They were a box set Zappa released of his older albums from the 60s and 70s that were out of print by the mid 80s, many of which were famously remixed by Frank. These albums all got released separately on CD later, some were the official CD versions on Ryko until the 2012 UMe releases reverted some back to the original mixes (Hot Rats, Zoot Allures, etc...) while some stayed in remixed form on the 2012 CDs because their original mixes later wound up on posthumous box sets (Greasy Love Songs, MOFO, Meat Light, etc...) and some remixed versions made it to later box sets (Lumpy Money, etc...) All these box sets have official release numbers.

My main reason for asking about this, is that The Old Masters box sets included the Mystery Disc, and then that got it's own release later on in 1998 [Official release #68] but technically is part of the Old Masters box which is official release 43, 46, and 49. Don't get me started on how these releases shouldn't be considered part of the official canon as it's mostly a re-release of older albums, even if some were drastically remixed, but as I said, these 80s mixes found their way on official releases posthumously.

Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #698 on: May 15, 2017, 03:18:59 PM »
Well I was thinking of just skipping them. Like you said, even the bonus stuff got rereleased officially later on, so there's no point in discussing them. I wasn't planning on going too much into different mixes of the same album. Partly because people will mostly listen to the version of the album they have, and if they don't they'll stream it from different sources, resulting in different mixes being discussed simultaneously. Actual rerecordings (like the electric drums and bass on Ruben), or different track lists have been discussed, but those are rarer (especially in the 80's).
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Offline Lowdz

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Re: The Frank Zappa Discography Thread - #36 - 'The Man From Utopia'
« Reply #699 on: May 15, 2017, 03:50:33 PM »
This was my first Zappa album, and I like about half of it. I have the vinyl of this and Sheik, Them and Us and a cassette version of Broadway The Hardway, and the three Shut Up albums. That's quite a lot of albums to say I'm not a huge fan. But I tried.
I see the genius but lots of it was too hard to listen to. I don't get most of the "humour". It's maybe an American thing and I don't have any reference point to much of it.
As I've got older, and more into fusion, it all makes more sense and I like it more.

And if it wasn't for Vai I wouldn't have gone anywhere near it back in the 80s.