“Best selling Zappa album.”
Every time I want to praise this album as the fun diversion that it is, that credential makes me more critical than I should be. I mean…really? This? Not We’re Only In It For The Money. Not Freak Out!. Not Absolutely Free. Not Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Uncle Meat, or any of the other masterpieces he did with the Mothers. Not Joe’s Garage with its insane yet cohesive story, not One Size Fits all with its twisty guitar passages, not Sheik Yerbouti with its unceasing provocation, not You Are What You Is with its colorful compositions…Apostrophe(‘). Wow.
All this may seem like a setup for a takedown, but Apostrophe(‘) is still a good album, one which is easy to casually enjoy and features some of the best instrumental performances in the Zappa catalogue (which is amazing considering the competition). It’s certainly not one of Frank’s missteps (Thing-Fish, 200 Motels, the Flo and Eddie era in general), or even one of his many mediocrities (most of the Lather albums). It’s a perfectly fine, occasionally funny, entertainingly jazzy, easily accessible album. In that way, I can see why it sold well, but I can’t think about it for very long without being bombarded with thoughts of “THIS SOLD MORE THEN BURNT WEENY SANDWICH AND UNCLE MEAT.”
It doesn’t help that the strength of this album is almost entirely in performance. The songwriting and lyricism on this album don’t excite me much at all, especially the former, which is more on par with Joe’s Garage then the immediate predecessor Overnite Sensation. This REALLY sucks because it’s not like Zappa isn’t a good composer (take a listen to You Are What You Is or Freak Out! if you have any doubts), so when he writes grooves instead of melodies it feels like I’m being denied.
The lyrics are slightly better. Apostrophe(‘) is a parody of rock-operas, and as such features a crazy story about eskimos, yellow snow, strictly commercial fur-trapping seal-beaters, pancake breakfasts, unhelpful wise men, and deadly foot diseases. It’s as whimsically immature and unpredictable as you could expect from the phrase “Zappa rock opera”, but it never rises above that. Joe’s Garage was kind of a bloated mess, but since it had connective tissue it felt like a natural, satisfying journey. Apostrophe(‘) is all over the place, not really parodying rock operas in any specific way. Though I will have to concede that the parts that are funny are REALLY funny.
And it was at that precise moment that he remembered
An ancient Eskimo legend
Wherein it is written
On whatever it is that they write it on up there
That if anything bad ever happens to your eyes
As a result of some sort of conflict
With anyone named Nanook
The only way you can get it fixed up
Is to go trudgin’ across the tundra
Mile after mile
Trudgin’ across the tundra
Right down to the parish of Saint Alfonzo
See? It’s not all bad. Actually screw that, dang this is a good album! The grooves are pleasant to the ear, the riffs are shaken out with energy and zest, the production is crisp and satisfying, the side one medley has failed to get old throughout the many, MANY listens I’ve given it, and the overall mood is just so fun and goofy. It’s a hair over thirty minutes, and makes for a quick, mostly satisfying listen.
But…best selling Zappa album? The one where I can’t even pick out individual songs without straining? The lazy parody elements? The arbitrary nature of its own existence? This thing is just a toss-off, no matter how fun it is. It doesn’t do much wrong, but doesn’t do much to excel. There aren’t really any standout songs, either (though the rockin’ funky title track is what I would go with if I had to pick a favorite), so in the end I don’t see what an album like Apostrophe(‘) contributes to the Zappa conversation. In some ways, it’s the opposite of most Zappa tossoffs: not interesting in any overall or conceptual way, but pleasant while it’s on. I can’t fault it much for that, of course, and if you like Zappa and haven’t heard this I would be shocked, but it does limit how high I can rate it. I enjoy it more then I like it, if that makes any sense.
Thematic Content: 2/5
Experience: Transcribing the imaginative whims of a third grader and turning it in as a Hollywood script.
7/10. Best Song: Apostrophe(‘)