Zoot Allures, released in October 1976, is mostly a studio album (there are some basic live tracks, as in the title track and "Black Napkins") featuring a revolving cast of musicians who, oddly, do not correspond to the ones pictured on the album cover (for instance, Patrick O'Hearn and Eddie Jobson did not contribute). Compared to previous releases like One Size Fits All, Roxy & Elsewhere, or even Over-Nite Sensation, and to upcoming ones such as Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, or Sheik Yerbouti, Zoot Allures sounds very stripped down to bare essentials.
Official Release #50. Released in 1988, Guitar may be the most important and ironically one of the least-known entries in Frank Zappa's voluminous discography – which spans over seven-dozen LPs as of this writing. His proficiencies as a composer and instrumentalist have long been lauded. However, anthologies of this nature provide an outlet for the remarkable breadth and depth of Zappa's manual dexterity and improvisational scope, which can now be enjoyed on a myriad of levels. The casual enthusiast can revel in the seemingly endless personas and sounds summoned from the soloist and band alike.
In order to finance his artier excursions, which increasingly required more expensive technology, Frank Zappa recorded several collections of guitar- and song-oriented material in the late '70s and early '80s, which generally concentrated on the bawdy lyrical themes many fans had come to expect and enjoy in concert. Sheik Yerbouti (two LPs, one CD) was one of the first and most successful of these albums, garnering attention for such tracks as the Grammy-nominated disco satire "Dancin' Fool," the controversial "Jewish Princess," and the equally controversial "Bobby Brown Goes Down," a song about gay S&M that became a substantial hit in European clubs.
Among Zappa's grittier works, ZOOT ALLURES is a strong piece of mid-'70s work that focuses more on the interaction of Zappa and a small group that includes Terry Bozzio, Ruth Underwood and Roy Estrada, temporarily abandoning the jazzy, large-scale efforts of previous albums like ONE SIZE FITS ALL. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but all the disparate ingredients for a satisfying whole. There are simple, catchy rock tunes like "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station," "Ms. Pinky," a synth-led ode to a sexual toy, and "Disco Boy," which foreshadowed Zappa's hit "Dancing Fool." The lovely instrumental "Black Napkins" is among the prettiest compositions in Zappa's canon, highlighting his guitar work in an uncharacteristically restrained mode. The arguable centerpiece of the album is the epic-length "The Torture Never Stops." Sung by Zappa in his deepest, dirtiest, most ominous voice, the song recounts the tale of an evil monarch who does unspeakable things in the depths of his castle. Full of Zappa's bluesy guitar interjections, its one of the most deliciously unsavory things FZ ever committed to tape.
Released in October 1984, Them or Us is Frank Zappa's last studio rock album (unless one counts Thing-Fish). It contains a little of everything for everyone, but most of all it has that cold and dry early-'80s feel that made this and other albums like The Man From Utopia and Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention sound dated pretty quickly. The record begins and ends with covers. "The Closer You Are" is one of those '50s R&B tunes the man loved so much.
Official Release #52. In his contract with Ryko, Frank Zappa had to put together 12 CDs worth of live material for the series You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore. The fact that he decided to devote two of them (all of Vol. 2) to a Helsinki concert from 1974 illustrates how good and representative he thought it was – and he was right. This two-CD set features the 1973-1974 band (Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson) near the end of their tour, in a concert in faraway Finland on September 22, 1974 (there were actually two concerts performed that day and, as usual, Zappa edited the best moments together).
Official Release #51. While most of the other volumes in the You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore series would be compiled around loose themes (whether topical or historical), this first volume contained a little of everything for everyone. The material spans most of Frank Zappa's career, from 1969 live recordings by the original Mothers of Invention (the medley "Let's Make the Water Turn Black/Harry, You're a Beast/The Orange County Lumber Truck" constitutes a highlight) up to the 1984 tour, with about every incarnation of his group in-between.
Official Release #53. The first live album compiled from various performances on Frank Zappa's 1988 world tour (his final outing), Broadway the Hard Way is composed mostly of new, vocal-oriented material. The tone throughout is highly political, with Zappa taking potshots at such targets as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Pat Robertson and other televangelists, Jesse Jackson, C. Everett Koop, and so on.
Official Release #44. Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention is a transitional album that sees Zappa turning away from rock and putting more time into his Synclavier compositions. This is a year away from the computer-only (minus one live track) Jazz From Hell. So the album presents a handful of computer pieces ("Aerobics in Bondage," "Little Beige Sambo"), one rock song and one rock instrumental ("We're Turning Again" and the complex "Alien Orifice"), and a couple of attempts at pairing real performers with the computer ("Yo Cats," "What's New in Baltimore?").
This is chamber music written by an 18th century Italian composer who may or may not have been an ancestor of Frank Zappa. The younger Zappa discovered the music at the music library at the University of California at Berkeley and programmed it into his Synclavier. The result is pleasant-enough European classical music with an electronic twinge – in the same category as Switched-On Bach.