Frank Zappa "Zoot Allures"

By Mark Kmetzko

Scene, 24 November 1976

Frank Zappa
Warner Bros.

Calling ZOOT ALLURES Frank Zappa’s best album in years, as I am, is not really that big a compliment. For too long, Zappa’s been getting by with bizarre humor and strange instrumentation, which, devoid of further musical enhancement, have failed miserably. Sure, he's sold some records, but the creative genius his work once reflected has seemingly been in cold storage. He’s thawed out a little of it for ZOOT ALLURES, making it an album that has appeal in several departments.

Of course, Zappa would not be Zappa without his satiric looks at the human race (especially the status quo). He satisfies this jones here with "Wonderful Wino,” “Ms. Pinky,” "Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station" and “Disco Boy’’ –  and some of them succeed on a comedic level – but the humor is outweighed by Zappa’s guitar virtuosity and compositional ability, qualities which have too long taken a back seat in the man’s music.

The title cut (a pun on the French ejaculation, “zut alors”) is a particularly good example of Zappa's apparent rediscovery of his musical genius strength. It’s an instrumental featuring a curious mix of voicings (with a very loud acoustic guitar ringing and perhaps Zaprpa’s most enchanting melody line since “Peaches En Regalia.”

Two other instrumentals, “Black Napkins” and “Friendly Little Fingers,” aren't too strong in the melody department, but they allow Zappa to prove once again just what an outstanding guitarist he is. I respect his choice not to let his guitar mastery dominate his music, though; his speed and fluidity is all the more satisfying in its scarcity.

Though several musicians are given credit for aiding Zappa on these songs, (I suppose the guys pictured on the cover with Zappa are his new band, but I have no idea as to their names), he is pretty much the show. On several cuts, he plays (in addition to guitar and lead vocals) bass and keyboards, and as his own back-up band he is quite good. His bass is especially impressive, as shown on “Friendly Little Finger,” where the agile bass and guitar combat reminds me a bit of the golden on-stage days of Cream.

What I’d really like to hear is the golden days of Zappa, back when his off-the-wallness was equalled only by the brilliance of his music and its execution. But this’ll do for now.