Them Or Us

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1984

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/2005

Frank Zappa always proved to be a prolific artist - how else does one explain releasing over 50 albums prior to his death in 1993? But the two-month period from October to November 1984 further illustrated that amazing output level that Zappa was able to maintain, as three separate discs - one of them a two-CD set - were released.

Them Or Us, the first of the batch, proved to be the final studio rock-based album that Zappa released, but at least he closed this portion of his career on a very high note, as this disc is one of the strongest releases Zappa had recorded for a while. From the opening doo-wop number "The Closer You Get" to the closing salvo of "Whipping Post," Zappa seems to let everything go in a 14-track frenzy.

It is interesting to note that Zappa seems to take a back seat in terms of leading the group on this disc. Although it was not uncommon for Zappa to let other members of the band sing lead vocals on tracks, it almost feels like Zappa allows himself to just be a member of the band on this disc. Maybe that's why things work so well; it's almost akin to the early days of the Mothers Of Invention.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There's still plenty of low-brow humor scattered throughout these tracks; numbers like "Stevie's Spanking" (an ode to "stunt guitarist" Steve Vai), "In France" (lead by an idol of Zappa's, Johnny "Guitar" Watson) and "Baby, Take Your Teeth Out" all help to maintain a status-quo of potentially offending material that Zappa had become famous for. Yet this time around, they almost seem tame - was it that we all were getting used to this level of humor from Zappa? (If so, we were in for one hell of a shock just one disc later.)

The focus on the music is also noticed, and it is a welcome attention shift. Tracks like "Ya Hozna" are truly bizarre, but they prove to be somewhat charming in the guitar work, making them more memorable than one would have expected. "Sinister Footwear II" does, admittedly, seem to stretch a little too long - but to play devil's advocate, I'd have loved to have heard Zappa and crew continue to go wild on the guitar solos on both "Stevie's Spanking" and "Whipping Post".

Granted, Them Or Us is a disc that didn't spawn many songs that became legendary in the Zappa catalog. Yet the whole disc, from beginning to end, is more approachable and listener-friendly than anything Zappa had done in a few years, quite possibly going back to Sheik Yerbouti in my book. Tracks like "Marque-Son's Chicken," "Them Or Us," the anti-MTV "Be In My Video" and even the bizarre little number "Frogs With Dirty Little Lips" provide the listener with an enjoyable experience - and one that, sadly, ends too soon.

Them Or Us is one of the many Zappa discs that seem to be lost in the avalanche of releases that came from his fertile mind and recording studio, but is an album that is well worth re-discovering... even if you're listening to it for the very first 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.