Saturday, October 18, 2014

Frank Zappa - Them or Us

Today (October 18th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Them or Us, a double-album from Frank Zappa. It charted at number 53 in the UK and number 22 in Sweden.

Side one begins with a cover of “The Closer You Are”, a 1956 hit for the doo wop group Earl Lewis and the Channels. The band manages to give it a bit of creepy, stalker vibe thanks to the deep bass vocal.

The second single was “In France”. It highlights elements from the early days of rock, with a blues-swing, a sauntering saxophone, and the backing vocals. The ending line really made me chuckle as it came out of left field.

“Ya Hozna” is a quirky but cool compilation of previous Zappa song snippets played backwards. It includes “Sofa” from his 1975 album Du Bist Mein Sofa, “Lonely Little Girl” from 1968’s We’re Only In It For the Money and “Valley Girl” from 1982’s Ships Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch. The whole piece has an alien operatic sound to it.

“Sharleena” fuses some reggae with psychedelic rock on this tale of love lost. The guitar solo is smoking hot.

Side two starts with “Sinister Footwear II”, an eclectic eight-and-a-half minute instrumental composition. The juxtaposition of wailing guitars and classical piano really works, while the synths give it a cosmic element.

The album’s longest cut is the over nine minute long “Truck Driver Divorce”. To me, it has one of those boffo variety show openings before shifting into another guitar injected jam for the rest of the track. Honestly, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Side three commences with “Stevie’s Spanking”, the B-side to the first single. This story of a sexual deviant is set to a funky rock groove.

“Baby, Take Your Teeth Out”, an erotic adventure without dentures, was released as the first single.

A seven and a half jazz-rock instrumental romp entitled “Marque-son’s Chicken” follows.

Clocking in at just a minute forty-two, “Planet of My Dreams” is a perky piano-based ode sung with a Tiny Tim-like vocal. It actually left me wanting more.

Side four opens with “Be In My Video”, another tune done in an early rock doo-wop style. Lyrically, Zappa makes mockery of the music video craze that had exploded in the early 80’s.

The title track, a heavy metal instrumental, “Them or Us” is next.

“Frogs with Dirty Little Lips” was written by Frank and his son Ahmet. The band creates a very atmospheric swamp mood musically.

The album closes with a cool cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s 1969 song “Whipping Post”.

As I have mentioned previously, I was not a huge Frank Zappa fan back in the day. Yes, I loved “Valley Girl” but that’s in part because it was a crossover smash. Had I listened to any of his albums back in the day, I would have been immediately turned off. His style was not what I was into. However, as an adult with wise years behind me, I can appreciate what he was doing records such as Them or Us even when not all the tracks hit the mark. I am really glad doing this blog has given me the exposure to his work.

For more of Frank Zappa, click here.

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