Frank Zappa: Tinsel Town Rebellion

By Dan Forte

Musician, August 1981

Frank Zappa
Tinsel Town Rebellion
(Barking Pumpkin)

That's right, folks – it's another album by Frank Zappa. If it occurs to some that the market has been glutted with Zappa product since he severed ties with Warner Bros., it's only because he has released two double albums and one single LP on his own Zappa Records while WB almost simultaneously unleashed Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites – all in the past two and a half years.

The always prolific Zappa seems to have been rejuvenated by his new lease on labels, and much of the material on this double live set illustrates the melodic, accessible, almost fifties approach evident on Sheik Yerbouti and Joe's Garage (especially "Ain't Got No Heart," "For The Young Sophisticate" and the title song, an appropriately cynical view of the L.A. new wave scene).

Recorded over the course of his last two or three tours, Tinsel Town features Zappa's multi-guitar band, with Ray White, Warren Cuccurullo, Steve Vai, Denny Walley, and Ike Willis in various combinations. Zappa discovered Willis working as a roadie at a college concert a few years back, and he has developed into one of the strongest vocalists to pass through the Zappa band. Willis provides two of the album's many highlights, the raunchy "Easy Meat" and a blues shuffle called "Bamboozled By Love." A vocal highpoint of a different sort is reached with keyboardist Bob Harris' falsetto part on "Love Of My Life" ( from Cruisin' With Ruben & the Jets).

Most of the four sides are comprised of previously unrecorded Zappa compositions, although a few welcome reminders of the past are tossed in. The LP closes with "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" and "Peaches III." This is the third time Zappa has recorded "Peaches En Regalia," but this version may be the best. Most of the cuts are fairly succinct, under five minutes, and usually stick with one theme, although "Easy Meat" degenerates into a tiresome jam. For those Zappa fanatics who are also guitar fanatics, the inner sleeve includes an order form for Zappa's three all-instrumental albums: Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More, and Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar. These are available only by mail order, from Barking Pumpkin Records, Box 5510, Terre Haute, IN 47805. I've heard two tracks from Return Of The Son... – the Metheny-esque "Stucco Homes" and "Canard Du Jour," which should be retitled "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Bouzouki" – and was duly impressed. This makes – what? – thirty-something albums by the Mother, and I can't imagine not owning a single one of them.