Sunday, April 10, 2016

Frank Zappa - 1978 - Studio Tan

Frank Zappa 
Studio Tan

01. The Adventures of Greggery Peccary (20:34)
02. Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget... [instrumental] (7:37)
03. Lemme Take You to the Beach (2:44)
04. RDNZL (8:16)

The track titled 'REDUNZL' would appear to be a subversion by Warner, who released this (which was envisaged by Frank to be a 4-part work that became Läther) without Frank's approval/control. He had simply fulfilled his contract and left the label.
Zappa's intended title 'RDNZL' can be found on his September '74 Helsinki-recorded You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 2 and The Lost Episodes and of course, Läther where the same title-oddities on Studio Tan are true of "Greggery Peccary" & "Let Me Take You To The Beach" which Frank had correctly titled "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary" & "Lemme Take You To The Beach".

Summary: The pre-2012 CDs contained a remix of "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary," and some contained digital glitches. The 2012 CD matches the vinyl version and does not have the remix.

ESSENTIAL VERSIONS FOR COMPLETISTS: Any non-2012 CD (preferably either a Zappa Records or "first pressing" Barking Pumpkin, although there's some indication that some later versions are fine), plus the 2012 CD; unlike the vinyl, it does not contain a fade on "Greggery Peccary," which is also slightly more complete than the one on Läther (most people will be perfectly happy with Läther).  However, insane completists may want to drool over a cassette from 1987 known as The Guitar World According to Frank Zappa, available briefly back then from Barfko and Guitar World magazine - it seems to have had a 2-minute excerpt from an otherwise unreleased Studio Tan remix with Chad Wackerman's drum overdubs!

- Frank Zappa / guitar, keyboards, vocals
- Dave Moire / vocals
- Eddie Jobson / keyboards, yodeling
- George Duke / keyboards
- Max Bennett / bass
- Paul Humphrey / drums
- Chester Thompson / drums
- Don Brewer / bongo's
- James "Bird Legs" Youman / bass
- Ruth Underwood / percussion, synthesizer
- Bruce Fowler / trombone, horns

For an artist as adept at and as focused on the absolutely strange, Frank Zappa certainly outdoes himself with oddity on Studio Tan.
One of the parts of the long mythological box set Läther, this album features Frank's longest studio track and three other odd bits of psychosis. Musically, his compositions are beginning to lean towards the massive orchestration/television sitcom theme style that will become much more dominant on later releases, like Orchestral Favorites or his mid-80s output. Lyrically, we have a lot of really goofy words tumbling from a highly sarcastic Zappa himself, but not the usual hyper-sexual innuendos (or really, not innuendos at all) that this period of his music tended to obsess with. In truth, the style here is much more similar to The Grand Wazoo or the first side of Apostrophe than to Sheik Yerbouti or Joe's Garage.

The Adventures of Greggery Peccary kicks off (or rather, spends half of) the album. Meandering and marked with a lot of complicated to quirky musical bits, the main focus of this song is the mostly spoken word sections. We have Frank narrating, a sped-up voice playing Greggery (who does most of the tune's singing), and a few other voices here and there. At points the music is terrifyingly huge and orchestral, usually when the spoken parts and the vocals are turned off, but at other times it really seems to go nowhere. There are no solo sections here or anything, which is not what you'd expect from a long Zappa composition, but nevertheless, even though it's kind of weak at a lot of points, it makes a refreshing addition to the man's particularly eclectic and unpredictable catalog. This is not a perfect track, but an interesting one.

The other side beings with Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget Orchestra, the name of which completely describes this track from beginning to end. It's a neat track with neat parts, but on the whole, its lack of cohesion and direction make it the least interesting and weakest track on Studio Tan. The next song, the only truly sung track, Let Me Take You to the Beach, is a peppy little adventure in electronic surfer pop on some form of drugs. The vocals are obnoxious but fit quite nicely, providing another goofy lyrical bit that is not as disturbing as Frank tends to get. The instruments are on fire for this song, especially the bass. RDNZL is a highly complicated instrumental that is probably more famous for its live rendition on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 2. Even still, it really moves here, with flying xylophones and the only real guitar soloing on the whole album. In the end, the last two tracks are the strongest on the album, while the other two are interesting.

Fans of Zappa's big band music, like Hot Rats and The Grand Wazoo, will probably find plenty to love here. It's a fairly flawed album, but with some essential material. Not a great place to start, still.

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