Broadway The Hard Way
REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/11/2003
At times, Frank Zappa had the ability to be insightful, crude, beautiful, or even just plain-funny. Rarely does he hit all of the bases on a single album, however -- and on this one, he comes really close. He zings at politics, and people, and American stereotypes and prejudices, all while managing a well-produced, clear and lush sound with the huge band he had assembled.
The material for this disc is culled from the ill-fated 1988 tour of Frank Zappa's band (don't tell any other reviewers I just used the words "ill-fated" to describe the '88 band, or I'll get a call from the cliche police.) This tour featured Ike Willis as the main vocalist, with lots and lots of horns providing backup. Most of the songs are new, but a couple are old familiars.
Zappa hits the mark on pieces like "Elvis Has Just Left The Building" and "Hot Plate Heaven" (despite a fairly boring guitar solo) and the album culminates with the beautifully bouncy Fundamenta-flambe "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk," but weak numbers like "Planet of the Baritone Women" and "Jezebel Boy" drag it down. Zappa's guitar playing isn't quite on, either, with "Any Kind of Pain" featuring one of the best solos Frank has ever produced, but with "Outside Now" and "Hot Plate Heaven" being quite possibly some of the worst. The solo in "Murder by Numbers" is interesting, and provides a nice little counterpoint to Sting's Shatner-esque vamping of "Murder by Numbers" over the band, but still isn't quite up to other solos Zappa has produced.
The rest of the album is mostly better-than-average filler, with lots and lots of references to 80's politics. The songs are fun to sing along to, and usually have a very well-defined melody -- but they don't quite make it. The sound is lush and rich, but at the same time feels a bit like it's bursting at the seams, coming apart and trying-too-hard. If you like the sound of the '88 band, and are into 80's politics (with an excursion into the early 70's with "Dickie's Such an Asshole") then you might want to check out this album -- it's in the Cheap Thrills line, so it's bargain-priced. But if you're interested in hearing what the '88 band can do, check out "Make a Jazz Noise" and if you want to hear old favorites in this style, check out "Best Band." The humor here is pretty overpowering, and a bit dated, but it does have some gems. However, that doesn't quite salvage it.