Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1981

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By 1981, there was no doubt that Frank Zappa had achieved the title of "guitar god," and had done so fairly. As much as he wanted to be revered as a composer, he knew that rock music paid the bills, and he knew his skills as a guitarist were incredible. So it shouldn't surprise people that Zappa, via mail order, came out with a series of three albums comprised solely of guitar solos.

Later compiled into a box set, Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar shows Zappa sometimes at his most creative, sometimes a little too self-indulgent - but in the end, this set proves to be a little too much of a good thing.

At first glance, one could wonder how anyone could classify 20 tracks of guitar-oriented music as "too much". And, indeed, the set gets off to a powerful start with "Five-Five-Five," a track that threatens to come apart at the seams with its frantic time signature but is held together by Zappa's guitar work. And it's not to say that this set doesn't have some outstanding moments on it. Take, for example, tracks such as "Variations On The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression," "Ship Ahoy," "Treacherous Cretins" or "The Deathless Horsie," and the power of Zappa as a guitarist quickly comes to the forefront and refuses to release its hold on the listener.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But the one thing that made Zappa's performances special was the way the whole band somehow worked into the picture, and while one could single out performances by any number of Zappa's band members, the fact remains that the only person who really stands in the spotlight throughout the course of this disc is Zappa (except the closing track, "Canard du Jour," which also features violinist Jean-Luc Ponty). And without having an additional musical foil like Ike Willis, Terry Bozzio or Ray White, the whole set begins to falter for the lack of variety.

Maybe it's the fact that three separate releases are combined into one box set - then again, I listened to Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar in three sections just like the original releases, and it still felt like a lot of guitar solos with no breaks. And as much as I like guitar-based music, hearing solo after solo gets dull real quick. As a result, many of the tracks tend to combine into a six-string sludge, so unless the listener is watching the CD player and reading the track listing, it's easy to lose track of things.

This, of course, will mean nothing to the diehard Zappa fan who worships every note he ever recorded - and if you like Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, the more power to you. As a compilation of discs, it's a little too overpowering and lacking any real variety to keep things interesting. Had these three mini-albums been releases staggered between studio discs, they may have been a little more powerful.

Rating: C+

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