Zoot Allures

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1976


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Coming off what turned out to be the final dissolution of the Mothers Of Invention and a short tour with his old friend Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa did something that many people may not have expected - he released a dark-sounding, more serious album in 1976 with Zoot Allures.

The first thing that strikes the listener about this disc is the overall sound. Zappa was known for crisp, clear production work, and turned out to be a producer who was in demand. Yet Zoot Allures has its emphasis on bass - not thumping bass like you hear from the asshole in the SUV next to you on the freeway, but an almost ominous feeling that is draped over the music. I don't know if this was intentional on Zappa's part, but it sets a mood.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For the most part, Zappa remains serious over the course of this album, though he and his band never abandon humor completely. Tracks like "Ms. Pinky" and the growing-in-popularity disco scene put-down on "Disco Boy" are evidence enough of this. But, for once, Zappa chooses not to use humor as his trump card, and the move works surprisingly well.

Listen to the sheer musicianship on instrumentals like "Zoot Allures" and "Black Napkins" as a subtle - subtle? Yeah, like a flying sledgehammer - reminder of just how good of a musician Zappa was, and how demanding he was of the same level of perfection from his backing band. Likewise, tracks like "The Torture Never Stops" never dips into the level of the absurd, but rather sounds like Zappa means business. My only criticism? The "screams of pain" from the women on this one sound like they're approaching orgasm - which made this one real hard to listen to at work.

Even the lesser-known tracks such as "Find Her Finer," "Friendly Little Finger" and "Wonderful Wino" turn out to be well worth the listener's time, and the darker edge to the music gives them the added kick that they might otherwise have not received. I'm willing to bet that, had a track like "Find Her Finer" been on a different disc with a more bright level of production, it wouldn't have been as noteworthy.

Yet Zoot Allures seems to have fallen to the wayside when it comes to people naming their favorite Zappa albums. Maybe it was the darker atmosphere of the disc that causes people to remember the brighter, funny discs like Sheik Yerbouti - and while I love that disc as well, it's a shame that Zoot Allures isn't remembered with the same kind of passion. It may have been a more serious album in terms of content and sound, but it's well worth checking out.

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.