Broadway The Hard Way

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1988

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/22/2005

After all of the time that Frank Zappa spent honing his skills as a serious composer, it seems kind of ironic that his return to form, Broadway The Hard Way, was an album of pop tunes with more than a smidgen of disgust toward modern society, politics and religion.

The first disc to capture the brief tenure of Zappa's 1988 touring band (which imploded following internal strife), Zappa - for the first time in a long while - sounds like he's having fun with the material and performing, and his new-found energy rubs off on his backing band. This is the kind of performance that fans had been waiting for a long time. Pity the group only lasted four months.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

No one is safe from Zappa's barbs, from Jesse Jackson (the excellent "Rhymin' Man") to then-president Ronald Reagan ("Dickie's Such An Asshole") to the Republican Party ("When The Lie's So Big"), even to Pat Robertson ("Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk"), Zappa and crew fire point-blank at the targets of their barbs, and they almost constantly hit the bullseye.

Try, as hard as you can, to not get sucked into the chorus of "Planet Of The Baritone Women", with its gutteral laugh punctuating the refrain. Try not to smirk at the slams against Jackson on "Rhymin' Man," delivered in an almost Western style. Try not to cheer the declarations of guest vocalist Sting (!) as he sits in with the band on the old Police track "Murder By Numbers". The fact is, you can't. The listener knows that Zappa and crew are fired up and out for blood, and it's impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and societal indignation - especially when Zappa implores the audience members at intermission to get up and register to vote.

This isn't to say there are no rough spots on Broadway The Hard Way - but compared to some of Zappa's releases, these are mere speed bumps on the road. Tracks like "Why Don't You Like Me?", "What Kind Of Girl" and "Jezebel Boy" don't quite have the same snap to their punches, and end up being a bit of a lull in the show, but these are not insurmountable obstacles. Truth is, Zappa hadn't put out an album as consistent as this one in a while, not counting any of the compilations he was working on at the time.

Sadly, Broadway The Hard Way has become almost a forgotten disc in the Zappa discography, despite its strengths. There are many Zappa CDs that I've found needing a major case of rediscovery by both fans and newcomers alike. Broadway The Hard Way should be one of those near the top of the list.

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.