Tinseltown Rebellion

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1981


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


As the decade of the '80s hit, Frank Zappa seemed to be in a retrospective mood. Having tackled several musical genres in a short period of time - not to mention releasing seven albums in a span of just under two years - Zappa returned to the sales bins in 1981 with Tinseltown Rebellion, a collection of mostly live tracks spanning his entire career, as well as capturing the insanity that his live stage show could be. In the end, this collection is a decent portrait of where Zappa was and how far he had come, but it also sounds like his heart just isn't fully into it.

Make no mistake, Zappa had assembled yet another stellar band behind him - this particular release marking the arrival of "stunt guitarist" Steve Vai, and both Zappa and the band knew how to bring life into a song. Tracks such as "Bamboozled By Love," "Pick Me, I'm Clean" and "Peaches III" (the last being the latest rendition of the classic "Peaches En Regalia") serve as ample proof of this. Also well worthy of note is how Zappa and crew were able to take a real chestnut from their collection - in this case, tracks like "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," "Love Of My Life" and "I Ain't Got No Heart" - and make them sound as fresh as the day they were first written. Special praise must be given to this version of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," which nails all of the song's little nuances perfectly.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet Zappa almost sounds bored with the whole rock scene - not surprising for someone who was considering himself more and more a composer than a performer. Zappa's stage banter during "Panty Rap" and "Dance Contest" almost sound like Zappa would rather be doing something else. Oh, the music doesn't suffer; Zappa makes sure to put the music first. But if the performer isn't wholly into the scene, chances are good the audience won't be either.

In fact, Zappa seems to sound at his happiest when he expresses himself through his guitar. The instrumental "Now You See It Now You Don't" almost serves as a warm-up for Zappa's next project, a collection of his guitar solos turned into song - but we'll talk about that in the next review. Likewise, his guitar work on tracks like "Easy Meat" continue to serve ample notice that Zappa was, indeed, a true guitar god, pulling sounds out of his instrument that should never have been possible, but are beautiful nonetheless.

The overall tempo of the music on Tinseltown Rebellion is sped up a bit, almost to answer the energetic charge of the latest threat to Zappa's style of music, punk. Just like Zappa skewered disco with tracks like "Dancin' Fool" and "Disco Boy," the title track answers the growing number of punk acts trying to get their brief moment in the spotlight and how fickle that chase for fame can turn out to be. It would be humorous if it wasn't so true - and, after over a decade in the business breaking every rule he could, Zappa knew of what he spoke.

Tinseltown Rebellion is a definite period piece in the vast Zappa discography. It is, by no means, a bad disc, and is a nice place for those not totally accustomed to Zappa's work to start out with when looking at his '80s output. But Zappa had delivered better live discs in terms of energy, and this one is a little disappointing in that regard. Disappointing, yes - but terrible, hardly.

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.