Have I Offended Someone?
Rykodisc Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/02/2001
Several different compilations featuring Frank Zappa's name have been released, nearly all of which were near or after his passing. Cheap Thrills and Son Of Cheep Thrills were intended as an introduction to "Frank the accessible," Strictly Genteel was "Frank the Composer" and Strictly Commercial was "Frank the Rock Star." This particular set serves as introduction to "Frank the Misogynistic, Homophobic, Bitter Anti-Semite."
Do I believe he was any of those things? No, not really. But he certainly didn't help his case with the American Public with this particular compilation - which I think was precisely his intention. It contains a selection of his more offensive tunes, some of which were modified for release - whether out of artistic choice or commercial appeal is left to the listener.
The album starts out with an interestingly slower version of "Bobby Brown Goes Down," one of my least favorite FZ songs. This version is almost tolerable, if only for the interesting rhythms and modifications made to it. Same goes for "Disco Boy," another of my least favorite songs, which undergoes a transformation here that livens it up a bit. Does it salvage the song? Not really. It's still an overlong satire - but it's definitely more interesting this way.
The inclusion of "Goblin Girl" on this disc is a mystery to me. It's not an overtly offensive song - it relies on a not-so-subtle play on words, which constraints with the fairly explicit nature of the rest of the disc. This song, actually, is one of my more favorite FZ songs - a highlight of You Are What You Is - and the "VSO'd to Slower Speed" as the booklet says sufficiently modifies it to make this a "new" version.
"In France" fits very well, and is actually an enjoyable song to listen to. It's kind of a fun rocking tune, with some fittingly acerbic comments about France that always make me laugh guiltily. "He's So Gay" is yet another song Zappa relies on obscenely falsetto voices to chant over and over to sustain the melody, and while it's good and fun the first time, it gets very annoying upon repeated listens. It definitely fits the compilation's attitude, however, announcing rather than denouncing a variety of homosexual stereotypes. "Titties 'n Beer" is one of my very favorite Zappa tunes, although here it is yet again - a re-edited version of the Zappa In New York cut, mangled and distorted to remove all the stage-banter that gave the original its charm. It's almost a shame this version was included, in this humble listener's opinion.
"We're Turning Again," a satire of the hippie-leftover culture of the early 80's, manages to work well. It's an unapologetic portrayal of what FZ saw as stupidity in the wistfulness felt toward the 60's and 70's. Definitely a keeper - and the way it rocks back and forth, disguising criticisms in the very styles it criticizes, goes ahead and shows Zappa's sometimes confusing duplicity.
"Dumb All Over" is possibly the only directly political song on the album, and it certainly fits in well. "Catholic Girls" works well, although it's the original version from Joe's Garage, which always sounds stripped down to me now that I've heard the big-band arrangement. "Dianh-Moe Humm," one of FZ's more popular tunes, never had any appeal for me. The extended interlude inserted here turns it from an annoying and skipped track into an ordeal of Allman Brothers magnitude.
"Tinsel Town Rebellion" is fast and heavy, and a welcome break from the vamp-vamp-lewd comment motif of "Dinah-Moe Humm." "Valley Girl" is difficult to sit and listen to, although it seems to work well in a background music capacity. "Jewish Princess," featuring horns, funny voices, and even a touch of blatantly stereotyping humor, is a good listen, if a bit tasteless and guilt-inducing. "Yo Cats" is difficult to listen to, and I almost always skip over it on the otherwise satisfying "Mothers of Prevention."
This compilation had so much potential - but fell so short. One of Frank Zappa's primary strengths was his ability to combine satirical, offensive and insightful lyrics with difficult, stimulating, and expansive music. This collection grabs the first two - satire and offensiveness - but fails entirely to get the insight. It comes across as bitter, small-minded and venomous, when a contextual analysis would remove so many of those negative attributes. The "new" versions of most songs here aren't worth buying the CD for, and neither is the track listing.
This seeks to be a compilation for the fans, and I would recommend they be the only people to buy this disc. It's certainly not something I'd want a FZ neophyte to listen to in order to decide if he wants to try Zappa's extensive back-catalog.