Frank Zappa "Thing-Fish" "Francesco Zappa"

By Bill Camarata

Scene, 7 February 1985

Frank Zappa
Barking Pumpkin

Frank Zappa/Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort
Barking Pumpkin

Here are a couple of albums that are different as night and day, but from the same artist: Frank Zappa. One is a three record boxed set of music to a Broadway show, the other is a record of baroque music performed on synthesizers. No joke! Let's talk about the bigger of the two first.

THING-FISH is a three record set and one and a half hour’s worth of music. On some terms, it’s quite an ambitious undertaking. There is a libretto inside with all of the lyrics, dialogue and stage directions for the Broadway show Zappa has written called THING-FISH. This show is about a bunch of paroled prisoners altered by chemicals so they have potato heads, duck lips and Catholic clothes growing out of their bodies. It also deals with what they do to a couple that came to see the expensive show that night. So far the production hasn’t been performed, but this “Original Cast Recording” features vocalist Ike Willis (who was Joe on JOE’s GARAGE) and Missing Persons’ Terry and Dale Bozzio. Stage antics included Terry servicing a rubber doll and Dale performing intercourse with a briefcase. More fun than you can handle? I thought so.

The music on THING-FISH is mostly recycled from Zappa’s older records, like “The Torture Never Stops” and “Miss Pinky” from ZOOT ALLURES, now re-titled “The Torchum Never Stops”and “Artificial Rhonda.” The new songs that are of note are “Clowns On Velvet,” which would have been a great instrumental, “The Mammy Nuns,” and “He’s So Gay” which is fantastic. Too bad these songs don’f justify the purchase of this three record box, which is overpriced to begin with, taking into account the amount of music you’re getting.

On the other hand, FRANCESCO ZAPPA is a delightful record, and it’s all classical music. Seems that there actually was a composer named Francesco Zappa, and through a bit of research, Frank Zappa and David Ocker, directors of this Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort, sought out the compositions and scored them for synthesizers. Asa result, I recommend this album to synth music fans, baroque music aficionados and anyone else with an open ear.

Both albums are immaculately recorded digitally, so with either one you get nice audio quality. However, only real Zappa freaks will be able to appreciate THING-FISH. FRANCESCO, however, will probably climb up the classical record charts just like Pierre Boulez’ recording of Zappa’s chamber music did last year, given half the chance.