Baby Snakes

Frank Zappa

Barking Pumpkin Records, 1983

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/22/2000

One of the Holy Grails for any Frank Zappa fan is to acquire a copy of his three-hour movie Baby Snakes. It's a bizarre mixture of clay animation, studio recording and live performance that defies simple categorization, and is a film you'll either love or hate. (Me? I have my very own copy of this film... though I freely admit it's been some time since I watched it.)

The 1982 album Baby Snakes is somewhat a soundtrack to this film, yet it's also an album that easily stands alone as a unique Zappa creation. However you choose to look at it, it captures Zappa at his best and at his most extreme, and leaves the listener with a rather mixed bag.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the opening speech featuring future Zappa band member Warren Cucurillo to the return of the title track (originally on the excellent disc Sheik Yerbouti), things get off to a strong start as Zappa and crew kick into a typical Halloween show for the band. The interplay between Zappa and drummer Terry Bozzio on "Titties 'N' Beer" makes me almost wish that they had lengthened this segment in concert. (Also noteworthy is one of Zappa's many shots against Warner Brothers, his former label... as well as Peter Frampton. To understand that reference, hie yourself down to Best Buy and pick up You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 6 and listen to the track "Is That Guy Kidding?".)

I don't believe the version of "Jones Crusher" on Baby Snakes is the same one on Sheik Yerbouti; I hear some subtle differences in this version that I don't quite remember before. I am, however, willing to admit I'm wrong on this - besides, it's a great track, so who really cares? A short version of "The Black Page # 2" and a killer rendition of "Disco Boy" round out the first half of the release.

Unfortunately, the second half of Baby Snakes is a tad weaker. Admittedly, I never was a fan of the track "Dinah Moe Humm," and the dual rendition - once planned, once with an audience member dancing around the stage - doesn't improve its standing with me. Likewise, "Punky's Whips" is just a track which has never caught fire with me. Bozzio's planned off-key vocals often tend to be a distraction, and the track borders on annoying. (Besides, how many people really remember who Punky Meadows was anyway?)

Still, the strengths of Baby Snakes are more than enough to make up for the shortcomings, and in the end, this turns out to be a decent enough Zappa release which should serve as a nice, short introduction to newcomers, and as an appetizer for long-time fans.

Rating: B

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© 2000 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 Barking Pumpkin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.