The Notorious Zappa

By ?

Borrowed Times, September 15, 1974

Apostrophe by Frank Zappa

What do Uncle Remus, St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast, Cosmik Debris, and Father O'blivion have in common? They are part of Frank Zappa's newest installment, a record called Apostrophe. Zappa frequently records with the Mothers of Invention but whether his work is solo or with the band, it is always clearly under his complete control. The people with whom he records remain a fairly closed group, overlapping through time. This kind of continuity has a lot to do with Zappa's musical style and outlook, and is the structure through which he builds his content.

Zappa is always aware of his own history, and music as well. No matter what he has been doing, he has remained the most self-conscious member of popular music. Obviously aware of his straightforward statements, he also knows the sort of obscure mythology he creates, as he acknowledges in a lyric of Apostrophe. He sets off this continuity and self consciousness by carrying over from album to album bits of music and repeating phrases which would seem meaningless by themselves.

Apostrophe reunites many of his former band members, and demonstrates at least a partial return to the kind of sociological-satirical material he used to do before his last few albums.

Zappa once said that the people who listen to his music wouldn't know what music was "if it came up and bit 'em in the ass."

Around that time he started getting away from his excellent satirical and political material and became quite involved with music only. This latest album demonstrates his total understanding and control of the musical language and technical aspects of playing and recording as well as his willingness to depart from that at any time. His music never sounds tired.

Zappa stated ten years ago on his first album, Freak Out that it was his intent to creatively express his relationship to his environment. He made it clear that he found that environment nauseating. Since then his music has remained a uniquely American product, holding up society for examination, either by showing its qualities or by assuming those qualities. "Assuming those qualities" could be taken as an excuse for some of Zappa's work which didn't live up to his obvious satire, but in Zappa's case it is valid because of the self-consciousness that he demonstrates.

Zappa's music has gone from deadly serious satire

"Who Are the Brain Police?"
...concentration moon, over the camp in the valley"
"...TV dinner by the pool, I'm so glad I finished school..."

to mutant ballet,
to classically oriented, 1950s surrealistic burger songs,
to a band whose members were embarrassed to be in a "comedy group"
to a theatre oriented band,
to a band getting merit badges and acceptance in the jazz community, and now back towards social satire,

"...I'm gonna go to Beverly Hills before dawn and knock the little jockeys off the rich people's lawn..."

Perhaps due to the mythology he creates among his audience a now widening but still esoteric set of listeners his music remains obscure to a lot of people. Not because it's so intellectual as to be inaccessible, or that you have to buy all of his records, but because it demands more from you than background music or dance music, even to the point of making specific references on record sleeves to other composers and writers. But always the music stands by itself and never rips the listener off.

The musicianship on this album is superb and, as always, Zappa uses the studio and mixing itself as another instrument. No other producer uses it as deftly as Zappa does. He has become a completely, assured writer of music and pulls off passages that seem impossibly Klutzy at their start. You can't hum along with this record, but it all fits together beautifully.

The once "vastly unpopular but notorious" Zappa is getting a larger audience, partly because he doesn't confront us with our own lives as much as he used to, but largely because he seems to be returning to the satire and rudeness which endeared him to his fans.