Sheik Yerbouti

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The first real exposure I had to Frank Zappa's music -- with the exception of riding in a high school friend's car, when I was too young and stupid to appreciate what I was hearing -- was thanks to a Chicago disc jockey a few years ago who played the extended mix of "Dancin' Fool" as a tribute to 1979. I was hooked instantly, and searched out the album -- Sheik Yerbouti -- that had the song in question.

Unfortunately, the version I heard was only available as a promo disc; I found it back in 1995, and paid the shop owner $20 in blood money... but it was worth every penny. Unfortunately for me, I got into Zappa's music in the period when he was dying of prostate cancer, so the discovery process into his music was quite bittersweet.

It's been 20 years since this album came out, and about five or six years since I fell in love with it. Through all that time, two things remain crystal clear about it. First, it's an album that's not for the easily offended; second, it's arguably Zappa's best work.

Released after the fracas with Warner Brothers over the proposed Lather set (which was released legally for the first time a couple of years ago) and incorporating snippets from that collection, Sheik Yerbouti is irreverent, filled with sexual innuendo, and contains some of the best goddamn playing you will ever hope to hear blaring from your speakers.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Quick, put on the disc now, and skip to the track "Rat Tomago." A guitar solo lifted from a performance of "The Torture Never Stops" (I can tell from hearing the orgasmic cries of a woman in the background at the start of the song), Zappa whips out a performance that truly describes what a guitar solo is. Part showmanship, part free-form improvisation, part madman, Zappa lays down a five-minute piece of tape that is the guitar in its most primordial form. I honestly don't think that any performance off of either Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar or Guitar match the raw emotion heard on this track.

Right from the start of Sheik Yerbouti, you can tell this is going to be a fun trip without the seatbelt. The first three tracks -- "I Have Been In You" (a pimp-slap against the popular Peter Frampton album I'm In You from that time), "Flakes" and "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" -- lays everything on the anvil, and wails away with the sledgehammers. Granted, Zappa's pension for layering his vocals is clearly evident many times, but it almost gives a surreal feeling to the performances to hear them not sync up -- and knowing how much of a perfectionist Zappa was, it had to have been done on purpose.

This isn't to say that Sheik Yerbouti is a smooth ride. Zappa got in trouble for the song "Jewish Princess," and some of the lyrics, while funny, could be construed as offensive, especially to those who could not appreciate the type of humor that Zappa had. Likewise, "Bobby Brown Goes Down" has some content that would make people blush, but this song holds a special place in my heart -- possibly because I once had a boss by that name who was a real asshole.

Fact is, Sheik Yerbouti is a solid album from note one to the final flourish and crowd applause. The musicianship of players like drummer Terry Bozzio and bassist Patrick O'Hearn shine through on this album, and Zappa is at his creative, sarcastic best.

Oh, wait -- I can't end the review without talking about "Dancin' Fool", the track that turned me onto Zappa Road in the beginning. While I was disappointed that the extended mix was nowhere to be found (and I wonder why, prior to Zappa's death, he didn't choose to tack the extended mix onto this CD), this song is a great slap in the face to the disco era that was so prevalent in 1979. Still, I'll always prefer the extended mix, possibly because it was what I heard first.

I take some pride in the fact that, thanks to some of the Zappa reviews we've done in the past, I've helped to get a few readers interested in this modern-day Varese with a Stratocaster. And any time someone asked me to recommend an album of Zappa's to purchase first, I've always been torn between Hot Rats and Sheik Yerbouti -- but now, I've got to give props to Sheik Yerbouti. It was -- and remains -- Zappa's high-water mark.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.