Frank Zappa

Rykodisc Records, 1974


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I may as well get this out of the way right now: I love Apostrophe, the 1974 release from Frank Zappa. I mean, I love this album. Love it, love it, loveitloveitloveitlo... oh, wait, I guess you want a little more detailed of a review than that. Fair enough.

After the success of Over-Nite Sensation in 1973, Zappa seemed primed to burst forth with a major offering. Sure, he might not have been topping the charts, but he was starting to reach a wider audience thanks to songs like "Dirty Love," "Camarillo Brillo" and "Montana". But what he would unleash just one album later was a major surprise.

Apostrophe contained some of Zappa's best songwriting efforts to that point - and remains one of the "must-own" albums of his vast discography. Likewise, the musicianship is flawless throughout this album, and it became a high-water mark that Zappa would find difficult to top. (While he came close many times, I question if he ever indeed did top this album.) It should be noted that it's been re-released in a few different remasters over the years; the version I have was the "two-fer" disc from 1988, which paired it with Over-Nite Sensation.

The suite of songs that kicks off the album lets you know that Zappa is running on high octane fuel and is ready to light up the tires. "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" became legendary, and it still is a killer track that serves to begin the tale of Nanook the eskimo. But without the other three songs in the suite, "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" doesn't have the same kind of power. This is one of the times where Zappa's segueing directly from one song to another works well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Nanook Rubs It" has the sound of an impromptu jam, and you could almost imagine Zappa making up the lyrics as he went along. However, it's far more of a complex piece of work whose humor is discovered more and more as you listen to the track repeatedly. As it leads in to the song "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast," it feels like everything you've listened to has all been leading up to one major musical moment.

With that, the incredible guitar lick of "Father O'Blivion" kicks in, and everything wraps up, if not neatly, then enjoyably. "Father O'Blivion" has hints of the jazz leanings that Zappa had toyed with for most of his career to that point, and is highlighted by the guitar and drum work. (The jazz theme would be continued with "Excentrifugal Forz," another track that has the sound of free-form improvisation - and is one that ends too soon for me.)

Three "single" tracks stand out in my mind each time I listen to Apostrophe - and I've probably listened to this album 100 times since I bought my first copy on cassette (and watched in horror as my cheese-box deck ate the tape on the 60th or so listen). The first is the instrumental title track, one which allows the entire band to literally "whip it out" and get funky without wrecking the structure of the original song. This could well be one of Zappa's best guitar lines ever - and I consider his solo on "Rat Tomago" to be his best. This one is a close second.

The other two tracks - "Cozmik Debris" and "Stinkfoot" - show that Zappa could tone down his style of humor without losing any of the power of his words, all backed by powerful musical performances. To this day, "Stinkfoot" remains one of my favorite Zappa tracks, and contains yet another of his finest guitar performances. (Side note: If you've not heard Over-Nite Sensation first, you might not get the reference to the dog in the song - a reference that goes back to "Dirty Love" from Over-Nite Sensation.)

But wait, you say - what about "Uncle Remus," the only track I haven't talked about? If anything, this track acts as a transition piece from the wild instrumentation that Zappa and crew utilize on "Apostrophe" to the more controlled, more mellow beats of "Stinkfoot." This isn't a bad track at all - and, in retrospect, seems to be a little too short.

I once said a long time ago that if someone were just getting into Zappa's work, they'd probably want to start with Hot Rats. As much as I still love that album, I'm now going to waffle a bit and suggest that anyone looking at discovering who Zappa was might want to pick up both Apostrophe and Hot Rats. After all, excellence should be experienced in massive doses.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 2000 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.