Frank Zappa: Läther

By Drew Wheeler

Musician, November 1996

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa intended Läther to be his magnum opus and farewell release for Warner Bras. Records, but the label nixed the ambitious 1972 four-LP boxed set. The ensuing FZ vs. WB legal battle ended when most of Läther (enigmatically pronounced "leather") turned up on four later albums and Zappa was let out of "contractual bondage," as he was wont to describe it. But now Läther is back; like some weird piñata that runs in reverse, it sucked its scattered goodies back into its engorged belly.

Skeptics who figure this three-disc set to be a mere resequencing of old material will be ambushed by its never-released gems and unexpected alternate versions, plus four bonus cuts to boot. (And boots were the only place fans heard these lost nuggets – a situation atypically facilitated by the bootleg-hating FZ. He played Läther over the airwaves, giving the people what Warner wouldn't.)

Its tracks, recorded from 1974 to 1977, are bridged in the high Zappa style of short sonic salvos and surrealistically nutty dialog. Aside from the set's rarities, it's the often jarring, new (in fact old) juxtaposition of familiar material that recasts it: The uplifting pomp of opening cut "Regyptian Strut" now segues into the twitchy neuroses of orchestral piece "Naval Aviation in Art?" Similarly, the ominous guitar-inferno of " Filthy Habits" now leads into the funky Faust-foolery of "Titties & Beer," starring Terry Bozzio as the Old Deluder (whose contract Frank is happy to sign, having seen worse).

Throughout, FZ's less-than-genteel, rocking burlesques like "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" and "Punky's Whips" sit side by side with such ferocious, genre-smashing instrumentals as "RDNZL" and "The Purple Lagoon." Together again for the first time, the eight (original vinyl) sides of Läther comprise a snazzy, all-embracing showcase for the more than eight sides of Frank Zappa.