Studio Tan

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Studio Tan is best known as the first of three studio releases that characterized Warner Brothers's fantastic fuck-up by not releasing Lather (the legendary 4-LP set) as Frank Zappa intended it to be heard. Instead, Studio Tan - along with two of Zappa's next three officially ordered releases - was chopped up and served in a manner that the record company preferred, but broke up Zappa's original artistic vision.

It's been many years since I listened to Lather, and even longer since I listened to Studio Tan (prior to writing this review), so forgive me if I don't directly compare the two. But taken on its own merits, Studio Tan is a very difficult album to listen to, and even harder to get involved in. Coming off such great releases as Zoot Allures and Zappa In New York, this one turns out to be a severe letdown.

Maybe it wouldn't have been such a shock if it hadn't been for the 20-minute opening track, "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary," a track which many critics have compared to "Billy The Mountain" (who, ironically, makes an appearance in this song). I'd agree in one regard: you either love it, or you hate it. Three guesses which side of the fence your humble reviewer falls on...my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Greggery Peccary" is a mind-numbing collage of confused, disoriented ramblings that try to tell a story with no discernable plot and no resolution. A combination of spoken-word and vocalized material, Zappa is at his most eclectic on this one - and, for once, this is not a good thing. Zappa had proven time and time again that he could master the art of the eclectic in a compact package, as well as tell a story. Maybe, had he tightened this one up, "Greggery Peccary" could have been something. As it sits, this one is the musical equivalent of a train wreck.

Maybe it's the inanity of "Greggery Peccary" that makes a song like "Lemme Take You To The Beach" listenable in comparison. A definite throw-away track, you almost feel embarrassed by the fact that you get hooked into this one, to the point of even humming the chorus long after the CD stops spinning. I don't want to like this one... but I still do.

The remaining two numbers on Studio Tan, "Revised Music For Guitar And Low-Budget Orchestra" and "RDNZL," are definite steps in the right direction. Despite a little musical weirdness interspersed within, "Revised Music" does begin to reel the listener in more and more, until it culminates with the genius that is "RDNZL," a track which proves once again the genius that Zappa was. "RDNZL" is a remarkable instrumental piece that challenges both the musicians and the listener, albeit in good ways, making the song's eight minutes fly by. "RDNZL" could well be one of Zappa's greatest instrumental pieces in his career.

Despite the positive way this disc ends, it's hard to recommend Studio Tan for anyone except the most loyal Zappa fans out there. Maybe, if one enjoys the kind of music that Zappa and crew were putting out with tracks like "Billy The Mountain," then the kind of absurdity that is "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary" will be right up your alley. Otherwise, this one is for the diehards only.

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: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 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.