Thursday, December 24, 2015


Suspension of disbelief is the attitude that will take you far when you wade into the exceptional catalog of Mr. Frank Zappa. Commanding every stage upon which he walked, peeling off impeccable solos dressed in a guitar tone finer than silk, the man did not suffer fools gladly. Fueled by coffee, cigs and satire, he revolutionized recording techniques, while only the greatest musicians lined up to play/record with him.

"Apostrophe" is by far the best record with which to introduce a casual listener to Zappa, being one of his most accessible works. That doesn't excuse you from checking out the rest of his output, which is rich in exquisite playing, ingenuity of arrangement and eclecticism. Humour was the essential element in his lyrical subject matter, though he was serious as a heart attack about the fine details of every note produced under his watch. The title track on this immaculate disc features a solo taken in the Lydian mode, sitting straight-faced next to an opus about a fur trapper who is temporarily blinded by the "deadly yellow snow".

You just have to listen.

Satirical pieces that target hypocrisy in organized religion ("St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast", "Father O'Blivion"), New Age charlatans ("Cosmic Debris") and the misguided zeal of some social activists ("Uncle Remus") blend wit with effortless, musical gymnastics. Understanding sound from an orchestral perspective, his stock in trade was deploying a superb, rotating cast of sympathetic players to bring his sonic vision to life.

Now ladies and gentlemen, destined to take the place of the mud shark in your mythology, here it is, the killer guitar tone...

Sublimation of original thought in favor of following trends was a constant theme that he railed against and with "Apostrophe", no subject is safe from his razor-sharp, verbal barbs. He would continue to publicly defend freedom of expression throughout his life. While Zappa would continue to astound, amuse, confound and sometimes piss off listeners, this album represented a commercial breakthrough. For an artist who was not bound by the restrictions of the two minute pop single, it really didn't matter.

Genius is a label that is tossed around far too liberally in the world of recording arts, though it deservedly applies to the multi-talented, late Francesco Zappa. Better still, he would reject that tag and simply allow his art to do the talking.

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