Hi. I’m working on an Obscured By Clouds review. Maybe that’ll actually go up this week.
This album is actually very useful, because it’s essentially a perfect Zappa thesis statement. Everything to conceptually like and dislike about Zappa is on here. If you can dig it, you’ll like Zappa. If you can’t, you probably won’t. Such it is for me: it’s difficult for me to really CONNECT with Zappa’s work on an emotional level because he’s so detached and cynical, but his wit and entertaining musicianship are enough to keep me coming back to him again and again. This album is essentially the blueprint of what has made Zappa one of my all-time favorite artists.
In a lot of ways, it’s Zappa’s version of The White Album, because it’s a headspinningly diverse catalogue of genre parodies. Everything from rock to jazz to gospel to western to anthem and everything else is here, with Zappa’s satiric lyrics functioning at an all-time high. The opening, “Teenage Wind”, lampoons what irresponsible young people see freedom as (“Free is when you don’t have to pay for nothing or do nothing/We want to be free/Free as the wind”). “Society Pages” lampoons the “beautiful people”; “I’m A Beautiful Guy” skewers the ridiculous arrogance of hard rock. There’s also the infamous “religion” trilogy, which stretches from “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” to “Heavenly Bank Account.” Bashing the violence and bigotry of religious hypocrites and televangelists in particular is nothing new in rock music, but Zappa offers some of the sharpest and funniest writing this subgenre offers. Obviously I don’t agree with everything he says in these songs (being nominally religious myself), but the unhindered calling out of those who use religion to their own selfish ends is brutally satisfying.
But here’s the unexpected part of this album: the MUSIC is great! Not great in the usual Zappa way, where the emphasis is more on playing then composition, just great on a basic musical standard. The melodies here are really, really catchy and always fit the song perfectly. This is probably Zappa’s height as a composer, if not as a “musician.”
There’s basically nothing of note wrong with the album. It’s so polished and intentional that even the stuff that could be wrong with it…actually feels kind of right. “Doreen” is a parody arena song with a coda that goes on for waaaaay to long. It’s immediately followed by “Goblin Girl”, a wonderfully spooky piece of innuendo, which goes into its own lengthy coda. Suddenly, the coda starts to turn into the one from “Doreen” because the previous song has forgotten that it’s over. I didn’t even notice this effect until John McFerrin pointed it out to me, and I died laughing. Other than that, I suppose the middle stretch of the album isn’t up to par with the beginning and end, but there still isn’t a bad song on here. Heck, by Zappa standards, these are all fantastic.
Is it a perfect album? Probably not. Is it a perfect ZAPPA album? Pretty much yeah. Not transcendent (hence it’s denied the 10+), but only because it’s a perfect execution of a concept I don’t find all that resonant.
Experience: Getting drunk while in a very anti-establishment mood and trying to interpret the music in the bar.
Best Song: I don’t even know how to begin choosing.