Sheik Yerbouti – Frank Zappa

By Scott C. Greene

The Ithacan, April 12, 1979

Frank Zappa has proven he's a genius. A bit on the strange side but that is, in fact, a great part of his musical ability. When a person thinks of Frank Zappa one thinks of this crazed, drugeating, long haired degenerate who dares to write songs about what we often think of people, society, and of ourselves. Zappa's genius arises out of his extremely perceptive lyrics and his ability to transfer those perceptions to his audience in such a way as enlighten and enliven. He's a very funny guy, perhaps we could say, a musical comedian. His music is known to be extremely off beat. He changes key every few measures. He alters tempo and rhythm so much that it's practically impossible to tap your foot to it. Still some how with all these tonal and rhythmic wanderings his music makes sense. I'm not sure how, but after one of his songs is over you're convinced that there's a theme there, but you just can't find it. His music is puzzling to listen to, but after you're done listening to it, somehow it all fits together.

For the type of music Zappa plays, the best musicians in the business are needed to back him up. On Sheik Yerbouti this fact is imminently clear. His use of overdubs makes his music sound as if he had a twenty piece band playing behind him. This is where his complicatedness rears it's head. The musicians he uses must not only play instruments, but they must also sing. Zappa gets into using voices in all sorts of strange ways... Anyway, some of the standout back up musicians on this album are, Terry Bozzio who plays drums and sings on the songs Trying to Grow A Chin, I'm So Cute, and City of Tiny Lights. He also does an amazing impersonation of Mr. Robert Zimmerman on the song Flakes. Belew plays rhythm guitar behind Zappa and they have some good guitar exchanges in songs throughout the album. The two keyboardists,Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf, play superbly throughout the album. Zappa's music is always moving, it never lays there and that makes for difficult keyboard parts. These two guys handle the material well. For years Zappa has been using the xylophone a great deal. This instrument seems to be an expressive backdrop for Zappa's story telling. Ed Mann plays the xylophone and vibes on this album, and he's really fast. Another job well done. Zappa's guitar playing is typically wild. There are extremely interesting guitar solos by Zappa in Rat Tumago and The Sheik Yerbouti Tango.

Broken Hears Are For Assholes, is by far, the most offensive song on the album complete with insults and explanations of anal fixations. Jewish princess, is a fantastic characterization of those girls we all know and love. I'm So Cute, is a spoof on The New Wave. This song is a ringer. It's repetitive, whiny, and pathetic. Bobby Brown is a vivid characterization of the All American Man in all his ridiculousness, and pecadillos.

The album is superbly engineered. In fact it may be a flawless recording. Considering the complexity of the music it is a remarkable accomplishment. If you're into musical satire, this album is one that you should have. Frank Zappa roaches new heights with Sheik Yerbouti.

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