Cheap Thrills

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc Records, 1998

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/2001

I think it says something that this compilation, Cheap Thrills, begins with the self-parodying track "I Could Be a Star Now" - an excerpt from the movie 200 Motels, in which a departing Mother of Invention is told "What do you do? You join the Mothers! And you end up working for Zappa, and he MAKES you be a creep!"

Cheap Thrills was the name of a scheme a few years ago to put special prices on certain Zappa titles. Cheap Thrills and Son Of Cheap Thrills were two extra-low cost CDs that retail for about five or six dollars (don't pay more than six!) that were sampler packs, pulling tracks from various titles in the Cheap Thrills line.

This first one features mostly the more humorous and less technically demanding pieces, especially when compared to Son Of Cheap Thrills. The first musical track is the 1988 version of "Catholic Girls," which is certainly a very energized version of the original song. While the 1988 band didn't exactly have the best chemistry, this track certainly shows that they did know how to play very well, as well as retain the original sense of humor off Joe's Garage.

"Bobby Brown Goes Down" is my least favorite song on the album. The less said about it, the better. I remember one Zappa fan reviewing it and saying "The best part is that FZ is laughing so hard that you can't hear what he's saying." It shows that he and Ike had a great time on stage, which is certainly very important, but I don't consider this a great song, technically or lyrically.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"You Are What You Is" is taken from Thing-Fish, not from the album of the same name. Thing-Fish is a good album, but it stands up much better when considered in and of itself - it contains mostly re-recordings of older songs, or identical versions with minor shifts. This track is one of the better re-productions, and it segues very nicely into what may be my favorite FZ track of all time.

"We Are Not Alone" features raunchy saxophone with incredible marimba work residing just underneath the top. It's a song that makes me want to cruise through residential neighborhoods at 15 MPH with the windows down - baritone sax, Steve Vai zipping around on a strat, all interplayed wonderfully.

The song "Cheap Thrills" is nice to listen to, but not something to write home to mom about - it is taken from Cruisin' With Reuben And The Jets, a doo-wop homage from the late 60's. It features interesting musical progression underneath an insidious set of lyrics that aren't as innocent as they appear. Immediately following is another piece of history from "The True Story of 200 Motels," "The Mudshark Interview". It's about 2:40 of pure conceptual continuity - an explanation of the obsession with Mudsharks, through an interview conducted with an apprehensive hotel clerk.

"Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel" is a great song. It's unabashedly political, with a dynamite introduction and pure energy streaming off the stage. Problem is, this particular release features the only guitar solo FZ ever released that bored me half to death. As blasphemous as that sounds, especially while using a guitar tone that brought him unending praise, I do not enjoy the solo in this song at all. Thankfully it is followed by "Zomby Woof," a fast, difficult piece that belongs on any "Driving Music" tape.

"The Torture Never Stops" is the longest track on the sampler, weighing in around 9:15, and possibly the least enjoyable to listen to. It's overlong and bluesy, two things that while in moderation are good, spell disaster in this case.

"Joe's Garage," as featured on this CD, is very fast, energized, and far more fun to listen to than the comparatively stately and orchestrated version found on the album of the same name. While they both have their merits, if I saw FZ in concert and had to choose, this style would be what I would hear. "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama" is a highlight of this CD, succeeding in all respects.

This CD serves as an introduction to the music of Zappa, and it was actually the first Zappa CD I bought, but frankly it could have been done better. It's not intended to be a 'greatest hits,' but as an intro even just to the Cheap Thrills line of music it is certainly lacking - and, by itself, it's a very, very weak intro to his music. Son Of Cheap Thrills was released later, and together they form a more cohesive unit, but Cheap Thrills on its own is priced about right - and while it wouldn't be a BAD introduction to Zappa's music, it's certainly not the best.

Rating: B-

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© 2001 Matthew Turk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.