[Review] Frank Zappa: Zoot Allures (1976)

Guitar, bass, keyboards… Zappa does it all (over you) on his latest studio album.

Kronomyth 21.0: Pisser dans un violon.

Zoot Allures introduced what would become familiar themes for Frank Zappa over the next decade: lascivious subject matter, social satire aimed at the disco generation, and blistering guitar showcases served atop arrangements of revved-up jazz/funk. Honestly, this mostly DIY effort is one of the least interesting chapters in Frank’s discography, save maybe for the endless guitar solos made available in the twilight of his career (shut up and pay me the money).

Of course there are flashes of brilliance, like the drugged-out Dalek distortion on Frank’s guitar in “Black Napkins” or the neatly conceived narrative of “Wonderful Wino” (foreshadowing the succinct and splendid Joe’s Garage). But there are missteps, wide ones, like the endless nonsense of “The Torture Never Stops” or the shrill “Disco Boy” (the album’s second single, following the sleepy but pleasant “Find Her Finer”). Frank would soon finetune the sexual innuendo; “Ms. Pinky” is already funny, but songs like “Jewish Princess” and “Crew Slut” suggest a refinement of the sleaze factor that functions better in Zappa’s musical milieu. I’d also slip the opening “Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station” into the plus column, since it’s one of the earliest examples of the complicated funk arrangements that would become a Zappa hallmark (“Fine Girl,” “No Not Now,” etc.).

It’s hard to believe that the sublime “Zoot Allures” (featuring the sort of tuned-down whammy distortion that Adrian Belew would soon appropriate for himself) and the puerile “Disco Boy” were aimed at the same audience, but then Zappa always had cultivated a childish, self-destructive element in his art. Zoot Allures remains popular with many fans, but it’s disheartening to hear Zappa assume the persona of the prince of potty jokes, in effect abdicating one throne for another.

Original LP Version

A1. Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station (2:35)
A2. Black Napkins (4:18)
A3. The Torture Never Stops (9:52)
A4. Ms. Pinky (3:49)
B1. Find Her Finer (4:22)
B2. Friendly Little Finger (4:20)
B3. Wonderful Wino (Frank Zappa/Jeff Simmons) (3:41)
B4. Zoot Allures (4:15)
B5. Disco Boy (5:28)

All selections written by Frank Zappa unless noted.

The Players

Frank Zappa (guitar, bass, synth, keyboards, lead vocals, director of recreational activities), Terry Bozzio (drums, background vocals) with Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax & vocals on A2), Roy Estrada (bass & vocals on A2, background vocals on A4/B1/B5), Ruben Ladron de Guevara (background vocals on B1), Andre Lewis (organ & vocals on A2, background vocals on B1/B5), Davey Moire (lead & background vocals on A1/B5), Lu Ann Neil (harp on B4), Sparkie Parker (background vocals on B4), Dave Parlato (bass on B4), Ruth Underwood (synthesizer & marimba on A4/B2/B4), Donnie Vliet (harmonica on B1).

The Pictures

Photography by Gary Heery. (And, yes, that really is Eddie Jobson on the album cover, even though he doesn’t play on the album. Go figure…) Design by Cal Schenkel.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on October 29, 1976 in the US (Warner Bros., BS/M5/M8 2970), the UK (Warner Bros., K 56298), Australia (Warner Bros., WB 0735), Japan (Warner Bros., P-10266W) and Yugoslavia (Suzy/Jugoton, WB 56298); reached #61 on the US charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in the US (Zappa, CDZAP 22).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD 10160).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc and cassette in 1995 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD/RAC-10523).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on October 24, 2001 in Japan (Rykodisc, VACK-1222).

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