Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1982

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/15/2005

If Frank Zappa committed any sin with his 1981 release You Are What You Is, it's that he sounded detatched from the music he and his band were creating. His level of interest in the music could be described as "minimal," and almost seemed bored by the proceedings. Also, the inter-twining of the songs just didn't seem to work as well as it may have on earlier discs.

His very next effort, Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch, tries to correct some of those errors. This selection of six songs puts Zappa back into single-song mode, without linking one concept to the next, and he admittedly does sound a little more interested in the music. If only the selections lived up to the additional effort that Zappa undoubtedly made.

This isn't to say that this is a bad album; things start off great with the leadoff track "No Not Now" leading right in to questionably Zappa's most successful song (at least on the charts), "Valley Girl". Backed by daughter Moon Unit recreating the dialogue of the girls she was growing up with, Zappa unintentionally did something. Instead of lampooning a facet of society like he had been doing his entire career, he actually managed to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 create one (or, more correctly, build on an existing condition and turn it into a fad). Granted, Moon Unit's dialogue seems very dated today, but this does remain an enjoyable song nonetheless.

Things start to go a little south with the free-association pseudo-jazz number "I Come From Nowhere". Now, I recognize that Zappa and crew had been known to do scat-like vocals on songs with the accompaniment following the vocal line before. But it just doesn't work as well this time around - compare it to "The Dangerous Kitchen" which would follow on the next album, and see the difference. Likewise, I've never been a fan of Lisa Popeil's orgasmic operatic warblings, so her presence on "Teenage Prostitute" basically kills the song for me.

The highlight of this disc is the 12-minute epic "Drowning Witch," which showcases the band in all its glory. Zappa may have said that even this version had imperfections (and that no band ever performed this number live correctly), but you'd have to have an ear a la Sherlock Holmes to be able to pick those miscues out of the piece. This piece almost seems to wrap up the previous eight to ten years of Zappa's live work in one number, and does so well - so much so, in fact, that the follow-up track "Envelopes" not only continues the thread but pushes it into the next level.

Despite the successes of this disc, Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch lacks one essential thing: permanence. Unlike many other of Zappa's albums, this one isn't the kind of disc that you throw in the CD player and let repeat until the landlord threatens to kick you out. It's an okay disc, for sure, but it's usually good for one listen all the way through - two, tops - before I get tired of it and want to refresh my musical palate. It's got good material at times, but this is one disc that occasionally feels like Zappa and crew may have been treading water.

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: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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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.