Frank Zappa: Studio Tan

By Peter Douglas

Beat Instrumental, December 1978


Folks, it's time to heave an enormous sigh and cast our minds back to times long gone. In those days Frank was an optimistic, wide-eyed young cynic with all the world at his feet. In 1966 he provided us with Freak Out! – an album so shocking in the year of Revolver that it only sold to those with warped minds. In 1967 he went further. He gave us We're In It For The Money. Frank was so hip back then. He hated hippies before Johnny Rotten was even born.

Many many albums later, there's this – presumably one of the several that have been delayed by record company politics during the last two years. Maybe this one ought to have been kept in the vaults for release after Zappa's demise. Or maybe I'm going too far. Certainly I was hoping for music of a higher quality than that found on his live double Zappa In New York; it's just that Studio Tan lacks the old excitement. Twelve years ago he was saying things that no-one dared say. He continued to shock right through '71 with Live At The Fillmore and '75 with Overnite Sensation. The music was fresh and stimulating; the cynicism we had caught up with by then, so it was funny without being shocking. Ho hum. What has he got left to say?

The disappointment of Studio Tan is that so much of it is walking over well-trod territory; we are assailed by the appalling realization that we've heard all this stuff before – the sneering voice-over, the funny noises, the bizarre chord changes, the morass of musical styles. He's always been one for quoting himself, and sure enough we hear snatches of Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Just Another Band From L.A.

The album consists of two long pieces. Side One is taken up with the story of Greggery Peccary, during which Frank snipes at the fashion industry, drug-taking hippies, white-collar workers ..... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Personally I like a good tune. Greggery Peccary had very little in the way of good tunes; it's jerky and erratic and is marred by Zappa's commentary, which is simply not funny. His commentaries on Zappa In New York weren't very funny either.

Side Two consists of Let Me Take You To The Beach, Revised Music For Guitar And Low Budget Orchestra and Redunzl. This is marginally more coherent and can be listened to without causing boredom and irritation in the listener. But all this is a long way short of what we would have expected of Frank two years ago. He's made duffers before: 200 Motels was a bore both on record and on film, but we could forgive him that. Two poor albums in a row, however, are bad news from a man who has rightly been hailed as a genius. Is he such a genius that it's beneath him to credit any of the musicians who played on this record?

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)