Rykodisc Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/23/1999
This review is eighteen months overdue. Back around February 1998, a reader (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) asked me to review Läther from Frank Zappa, because he was seriously considering buying it, and wanted to know what I thought of it.
Problem number one: I was locked into reviewing the entire You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series, and we had just reviewed the first volume a week prior. Problem number two: we don't review an artist twice in a 60-day period, so it was going to be some time before I got to this hot potato. Problem number three: I didn't own Läther... a problem I solved the other day when I snagged a copy at Wherehouse Music.
I'm sure our reader has long since bought Läther for himself - and I'm sure he's satisfied with his purchase. This is a lot to digest in one sitting, and the diehard Zappa fan probably owns many of these songs already, but it's still a welcome addition to your collection.
A bit of history: Läther was supposed to be released in 1978 as a four-record box set, but (depending on which story you believe) Warner Brothers would not allow Zappa to put it out, and they refused to release it. Instead, Zappa turned around and released a series of albums that utilized a lot of the songs from Läther on them. These albums, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan and Orchestral Favorites, we'll eventually get to. You'll also hear elements on Zappa In New York and Sheik Yerbouti. Finally, in 1996 - three years after Zappa's death, Gail Zappa and Rykodisc answered the prayers of many Zappa devotees and brought this set out, eighteen years after it was supposed to be issued.
Was it worth it? Simply put: Damn straight.
Many of the songs here will sound familiar to you. Encased on this three-CD set include early versions of "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" and "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" (including a brief confrontation between a disgruntled concert attendee and Zappa). These versions are a little rough, compared to the more polished versions you can hear on other albums, but they're of historical significance. An additional version of "Big Leg Emma" is a lot of fun to listen to - and I'm always interested to hear different versions of "Titties 'n Beer" just to hear the interplay between Zappa and drummer Terry Bozzio.
If you own Zappa In New York, you'll undoubtedly be familiar with "Punky's Whips" and "The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit," both tracks intro'ed by Don Pardo. (How Zappa got him to do these shows I'll never know; you wouldn't expect Pardo to be saying some of the things he says.)
Some people could claim that Läther is just a rehash of Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites (casually forgetting that Läther pre-dates these releases). In fact, a lot of the tracks from these albums can be found here, but there are a few tracks on Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites that aren't on Läther. And even if you didn't especially like these albums when they first came out, don't be so quick to write Läther off; this set actually helps these songs by putting them into a new light. Indeed, hearing them the way they were meant to be heard helps a lot. (Well, with one exception; I still don't like "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary".)
So, let's say you're one of the lucky people who taped Läther off the radio when Zappa, in an effort to piss off his friends at Warner Brothers, played the entire album on the air, this set includes four previously unreleased tracks (including a remix of "Regyptian Strut" from the year of Zappa's death). While I'm not sure if these actually enhance this set, they are interesting to listen to.
The biggest negative of Läther is that it's over 2 1/2 hours in length, a lot for even a diehard Zappa fan to sit through in one shot. If you have the patience, it is an experience that is well worth it; even breaking it up by disc is worth it, and it doesn't lessen the power of the music. (One other negative could be the price, though I think it is well worth the investment, especially if you're into Zappa. Then again, I paid $20 for a used set, so I freely admit I'm cheap.)
Läther is one of the Holy Grails that Zappa fans have long been drooling for. My advice: wipe your mouth, hie yourself down to the store and snag this puppy.