Chunga's Revenge

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1970

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/06/2005

In a sense, calling Chunga's Revenge a Frank Zappa solo album is a bit of a misnomer. In reality, this was the birth cry of the third iteration of the Mothers Of Invention, welcoming Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman into the fold. Yet this is indeed classified as a Zappa solo disc, and while it shows a bit more focus than the previous release Weasels Ripped My Flesh (which was a Mothers Of Invention release), it does feel like a bit of a transitory disc, made to order while Zappa plotted his next career move.

It's not that the content is bad, or even forgettable. In fact, many of the compositions contained on this disc rank among Zappa's best for this stage of his career. Tracks like "Transylvanian Boogie," "Twenty Small Cigars" and - to a point - "The Nancy & Mary Music" all demonstrate both the growth as a songwriter that Zappa had experienced and more confidence as a frontman. Even the edge in the sound of his guitar solos was beginning to come to the forefront.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet one can't help but notice an occasional lack of passion on Chunga's Revenge - almost as if this disc was testing the waters with the band before they threw things into overdrive. "Road Ladies" is a decent enough blues number, lacking the raunchiness that would mark the "Flo & Eddie" era of the Mothers, while "Would You Go All The Way?" hints at that sort of mischief without getting offensive. Even the doo-wop throwback, "Sharleena," just doesn't have the same kind of magic that tracks from even earlier in the year, such as "Valarie," had.

What is interesting is how the rhythmic structure of Zappa's music is brought to the forefront. "The Clap" is comprised solely of percussion instruments, and works well, though it sometimes feels like it's too brief. (Then again, maybe Zappa knew not to overdo it on a good thing.) Likewise, George Duke turns in an amazing performance during "The Nancy & Mary Music" by performing a drum solo - in scat-style vocals! The fact that neither Duke nor the rest of the band miss a single beat shows the amazing dexterity that Zappa demanded from his musicians, as well as himself.

The key phrase to describe Chunga's Revenge is this: it's enjoyable, but it often feels like a throw-away record. When I do dig this one out of the Pierce Memorial Archives for an afternoon's listen, it almost has the musical effect of Chinese food - that is, after the hour, I don't quite feel satisfied. It's kind of a shame, really, as this disc marked an improvement over Weasels Ripped My Flesh in that most of the musical weirdness was gone. Who knew that it would be replaced by something else entirely - but we'll get to that next time.

2005 Christopher Thelen 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 the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: B-

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen 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, and is used for informational purposes only.