Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Frank Zappa

  • Hot Rats [Bizarre, 1969] C
  • Chunga's Revenge [Bizarre, 1970] C+
  • Waka/Jawaka--Hot Rats [Bizarre/Reprise, 1972] B
  • Apostrophe (') [DiscReet, 1974] B-
  • Sleep Dirt [DiscReet, 1979] B-
  • Sheik Yerbouti [Zappa, 1979] C
  • Zappatite: Frank Zappa's Tastiest Tracks [Zappa, 2016] **

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hot Rats [Bizarre, 1969]
Doo-doo to you, Frank--when I want movie music I'll listen to "Wonderwall." C

Chunga's Revenge [Bizarre, 1970]
Like Bobby Sherman, Zappa is a selfish exploiter of popular taste. That Bobby Sherman wants to make money while Zappa wants to make money and emulate Varese is beside the point--if anything, Zappa's aestheticism intensifies his contempt for rock and its audience. Even Hot Rats, his compositional peak, played as much with the moods and usages of Muzak as with those of rock and roll. This is definitely not his peak. Zappa plays a lot of guitar, just as his admirers always hope he will, but the overall effect is more Martin Denny than Varese. Also featured are a number of "dirty" jokes. C+

Waka/Jawaka--Hot Rats [Bizarre/Reprise, 1972]
With Sal Marquez playing "many trumpets" all over "Big Swifty," there are times you could drop the needle and think you were listening to recent Miles Davis. That's certainly what Zappa's been doing. But where Davis is occasionally too loose, Zappa's always too tight--he seems to perceive only what is weird and alienating in his influences, never what is humane. Also, Sal Marquez doesn't play trumpet(s) as good as Miles. B

Apostrophe (') [DiscReet, 1974]
Disillusioned acolytes are complaining that he's retreated, which means he's finally made top ten, but that's just his reward for professional persistence. If anything, the satire's improved a little, and the title piece--an improvisation with Jack Bruce, Jim Gordon, and rhythm guitarist Tony Duran--forays into quartet-style jazz-rock. Given Frank's distaste for "Cosmik Debris" you'd think maybe he's come up with something earthier than Mahavishnu, but given his distaste for sex you can be sure it's more cerebral instead. B-

Sleep Dirt [DiscReet, 1979]
For what it's worth, I thought I'd mention that this collection of outtakes showcases more good music than any Zappa album in years--including its companion piece, Studio Tan, which features a twenty-minute narrative called "Greggery Peccary" that could make me defend El Lay. Maybe the secret of Sleep Dirt is that Frank doesn't talk on it. But that didn't help Orchestral Favorites. B-

Sheik Yerbouti [Zappa, 1979]
If this be social "satire," how come its sole targets are ordinary citizens whose weirdnesses happen to diverge from those of the retentive gent at the control board? Or are we to read his new fixation on buggery as an indication of approval? Makes you wonder whether his primo guitar solo on "Yo' Mama" and those as-unique-as-they-used-to-be rhythms and textures are as arid spiritually as he is. As if there were any question after all these years. C

Zappatite: Frank Zappa's Tastiest Tracks [Zappa, 2016]
Pop being beyond him emotionally, the anal guitar virtuoso applies his high IQ to satire ("Trouble Every Day," "Valley Girl," "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow") **

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: Oh shut up.

See Also