The Man From Utopia

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Even after repeated listenings to Frank Zappa's 1983 release The Man From Utopia, I'm left asking myself an important question: What the hell was that all about?

A definite transition album if I've ever heard one, Zappa seemed as if he didn't quite know where he wanted to take his music with this one. There were hints at the oldies that he grew up with, and teasers of real rock that Zappa had been known for. The rest of the material, though, falls into one of two categories - scat-spoken pseudo-jazz (which gets real old, real quick) and unclassifiable sludge. All in all, it ends up not being one of Zappa's most memorable outings.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If this disc is best remembered for anything, it would be two particular tracks. One is "The Dangerous Kitchen," the only one of the three scat-vocaled free-form numbers that has any merit to it. In this one, Zappa does paint a rather graphic portrait of a disgustingly-kept living area, all the while backed with some pretty good music. The other would be the anti-union number "Stick Together," which may be a bit simplistic as it relies on a whopping two chords, but is catchy enough that you may find yourself singing this one at inopportune times. It may not have the kind of power of songs like "We Shall Overcome," but it's powerful in its own right.

The remaining two scat-vocaled songs, "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats" and "The Radio Is Broken," both are wasted time, having little substance and no depth, and even a semi-decent musical backing track can't save these disasters. Why Zappa felt the need to put three songs in this genre on this album is beyond me.

The remants of The Man From Utopia just seem to drift aimlessly, with no one genre or storyline anchoring these tracks together. The two rock-like numbers, "Cocaine Decisions" and "SEX," hardly count among Zappa's best, though they are moderately passable tracks. The pastiche of oldies, "The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou," could well be the best track on the disc, while the later homage to doo-wop "Luigi & The Wise Guys" (a track thrown on when Zappa re-worked this disc in the late '80s) is nowhere in the same league. Even the instrumentals, like "Tink Walks Amok" and "Moggio," fail to impress this time around.

In the end, The Man From Utopia proves to be a lackluster effort - regrettably, one of many that Zappa put out at this stage in his career. While there are some tracks that are worth discovering, this is a disc that should be saved until one is well into their exploration of all things Zappa - 'cause if this man is from Utopia, then it sure wasn't any paradise.

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

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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.