Frank Zappa "Them Or Us"

By Bill Camarata

Scene, 29 November 1984

Frank Zappa
Barking Pumpkin

After spending two-and-a-half years away from rock and roll, Frank Zappa has put together another two-record bonanza, the kind of record that has made him great. This album is probably his best since YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS, but it’s better balanced, like SHEIK YERBOUTI. There’s plenty to please all types of Zappa fans: long guitar solos, instrumentals with a high density of notes per second, a doo-wop remake and, of course, funny, nonsensical songs.

Side one opens with the doo-wop tune, “The Closer Your Are,” leading into “In France,” sung hilariously by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. “Ya Hozna,” a tune sung backwards, may be hard for some to accept.

Closing side one is “Sharleena,” a re-make of a tune on Zappa’s CHUNGA'S REVENGE album. This version is more technical, more orchestrated (in the rock band sense of the word), and very wild, since it features a guitar solo by Zappa’s 14-year old son, Dweezil. Side Two contains two cuts: “Sinister Footwear II,” a stunning instrumental full of synthesizers, percussion and screaming lead guitar. “Truck Driver Divorce,” continues the story started in “No Not Now” from DROWNING WITCH about the man who delivers string beans to Utah (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check it out for yourself). Most of “Truck Driver Divorce,” however, is Zappa soloing again. He puts down his guitar for “Stevie's Spanking,” about guitarist Steve Vai and a supposed sexual encounter he had. This is more than just an amusing tune. This one rocks out, with solos from Vai himself and Dweezil again. Watch out, because this kid will be a force to contend with in the future, if his present guitar playing is any indication.

Fast forwarding to the last side of the record, we have “Be In My Video” with its sing along “Bum-bum-bum Bim-bo” intro. Contained in “Be In My Video” is every cliche you’ve seen on MTV, along with some you may wish you hadn’t. Too bad there won’t be a real video for it. The title composition on THEM OR US follows, a five-minute guitar/bass/drums outing that has Zappa at full throttle while Scott Thunes punctuates Chad Wackerman’s unbelievable drumming with bass and moog bass.

Closing the album is the tune that’s been an encore favorite at Zappa concerts for the past few years, the Allman Brothers classic, “Whipping Post.” It’s done straight, with no parody whatsoever, and quite well I might add.

The whole thing was recorded digitally, and the sound quality is unbelievable. For this reason alone you should pick up the record.

THEM OR US is one of the more powerful Zappa records to come out in recent years, but he has lots more in the can, most notably THING-FISH, which should be coming out by the end of the year. And do you remember the last time Zappa started releasing records after a long silence? He put out five records in one year! This is his twentieth year as a record maker, so he must know how to do it by now.