Frank Zappa: Joe's Garage, Act I

By Eric Salzman

Stereo Review, December 1979

FRANK ZAPPA: Joe's Garage, Act I. Frank Zappa (vocals, guitar); instrumental accompaniment. The Central Scrutinizer; Catholic Girls; Crew Slut; Wet T-Shirt Nite; Toad-O Line; and four others. ZAPPA SRZ-1-1603 $7.98, Ⓑ ZT8-1-1603 $7.98, © ZT4-1-1603 $7.98.

Performance: Prurient
Recording: The Zappa Sound

I don't know if "Act II" of "Joe's Garage" is forthcoming, but I hope so. "Act I" sure does end incomprehensibly. As usual, Zappa milks his favorite obsessions: "Joe's Garage" is a slightly surrealistic sound drama about garage bands, groupie sex, and all-American sleaze. The story is told by the Central Scrutinizer, whose job is to enforce all the laws that haven't been passed yet – mainly the Abolition of Music, the very art whose temptations and evils are so well illustrated in this album. In the end, all that happens is that our hero joins the First Church of Appliantology – punishment enough, perhaps, but not exactly the horrible fate we had been led to expect. Maybe there is more to come in Act II.

In between, there is some music: Zappaesque instant classics like . . . well, you can read the list above. The title song, a retroactive garage-band national anthem, is Zappa's grungy answer to Disco, New Wave, and No Wave. Joe's Garage and an almost lyric Lucille (as close as Zappa ever gets to lyric) are the only songs on the album that aren't dirty. All the rest are leering, lascivious, lyricomusical humor of the sort Zappa has been pushing for years. His zestful, zany, adolescent Singspiel and muddled madcap music may be amusing, but it hardly has the urgency his work used to have. Pop musicians with a lot of money and a lot of ego and a lot of talent can, like presidents and kings, get cut off from the rest of us. Frank needs to break out and move on.