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ONE OF HIS BEST
on 26 September 2006
There is a difficulty in recommending Frank Zappa's music: it does not lie in the quality - it's all good - but in the shere variety of it. It's possible to be an ardent fan of some of Zappa's work, only to find the rest of it inaccessible or just simply not your cup of tea. Sheik Yerbouti may be a difficult album to recommend - paradoxical as this may sound - due to it's fairly straightforward nature. There is nothing particularly avante-garde or virtuoso about this record (in comparison with many of his other albums) and therefore may fly against the expectations of some first time listeners. At the very least, though, this album gives a balanced picture of his varied output and like all his records it is indefinably yet unmistakably Zappa.
One recurring theme of Zappa's music is humour and the impression you get from listening to him is a refusal to take anything seriously. This extended not only to the lyrics/subject matter and the presentation but even the notes themselves - Frank Zappa made funny music. On virtually all of Zappa's albums there is a guitar line, blast of trumpet, vocal harmony, etc that sounds odd, unfamiliar and often funny. This image as a musical humourist is abundant on Sheik Yerbouti. Whether it be the overblown fanfare of 'Flakes' or the caustic lyrics of 'Broken Hearts are for Assholes' the humour is always evident and rarely subtle.
It is particularly the lack of lyrical subtlety that may cause some listeners to have a problem with the album. It forces criticisms of it being of novelty value only. I disagree. If a song is merely a novelty then it wouldn't stand repeated listening unlike the songs collected here. Why do they? Because of the quality of the songs themselves, some of which are the catchiest of Zappa's career; 'Tryin' to Grow A Chin', 'Flakes', 'Bobby Brown', 'Dancin Fool', etc, are just great pop/rock records. What must also be taken into consideration is the humour was often a medium for making a social observation and although it's understandable that songs about lazy tradesmen ('Flakes') is not everyone's idea of a subject worthy of mention the question has to be posed: why not? What is a worthy subject for song? How should a song be presented? These are questions Zappa answered all his life through refusing to stick to any pre-conceived musical norms. Here he answers them as well as anywhere else.
Sheik Yerbouti is a contentious, sarcastic, occassionally ridiciculous, fantastic record that is never for one second dull. One of his best.