Frank Zappa "The Man From Utopia"

By Bill Camarata

Scene, 7 April 1983

Frank Zappa
Barking Pumpkin

No, this isn’t a parody of Todd Rundgren’s group. THE MAN FROM UTOPIA’S title cut is a medley of two old rhythm and blues songs from the Fifties. “The Man From Utopia” and “Mary Lou.” The treatment of these two tunes is the exact opposite of RUBEN AND THE JETS. Instead of Zappa songs done doo-wop style, here are some doo-wop songs done Zappa style.

“Cocaine Decisions” starts off the record with an arrangement more basic than when the tune was done live during his 1981 U.S. tour. The story of Big-Business misuse of high class drugs is still intact, though. Another good put-down of modern day business is “Stick Together,” a song about labor union stupidity.

“Sex,” a mildly amusing song, doesn’t have any lyrical content that would keep it from being played on the radio, and except for “Valley Girl,” when was the last time you heard Zappa on the radio?

Two tunes that are sure to be of interest to fans of complex guitar playing are ”The Dangerous Kitchen” and “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats.” Recorded live, these cuts are half-sound, half-talked. Guitarist Steve Vai has gone through these vocal lines, and transcribed them, note-for-note, talking or singing, and plays them on acoustic guitar. Vai says the effect is “like George Benson from Venus,” and indeed there is no other way to describe it. “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” is the much more interesting of the two.

There are three great instrumentals on the album. “Tink Walks Amok” features Arthur Barrow. “Moggio” is very complicated, and “We Are Not Alone,” which, besides from being danceable, has a clever mandolin part in it.

The only cuts that I would not recommend are the previously mentioned “Dangerous Kitchen”, and “The Radio Is Broken.” They’re interesting, and the lyrics are well written. But compared to the rest of the songs here, these two are dog meat.