Frank Zappa: Sheik Yerbouti

By Brian Case

Melody Maker, February 3, 1979

FRANK ZAPPA "Sheik Yerbouti"  (CBS 88339)

If we pay for our culture’s innovators in the longueurs of their cheapjack imitators, Frank Zappa is the price-tag on Lenny Bruce. Numerically rich in noughts, Zappa nevertheless inspires in his followers an air of self-congratulation which usually attends the praetorate of the millennium. 200 Motels – that leaden hippies’ Hellzapoppin’ – gave a fair indication of the rock satirist’s directionlessness and creative nullity; his latest double-album confirms his consistency, Zappa’s creativity benumbs the back of the neck.

He uses obscenity like catsup. Neither scalding nor comic, it celebrates the carnal in much the same register as the node-picker sings the body electric. “I Have Been In You,” “Jones Crusher” and “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” are all aimed at that section of the fancy who believe in muckiness as the yeoman way of facing physiological facts.

The “fist-fuck / wrist watch” reference on “Assholes” has been used before, of course, for National Lampoon’s Timex advert as they sing, confessionally on “We’ve Got To Get Into Something Real,” “that’s goin’ on two tours old now … we gotta come up with some new shit.” It’s not a confession that disarms.

Maybe I’m missing some subtle indictment of radicalism and sexism, but “Jewish Princess” seemed to me to fall midway between Julius Streicher and the Mailer of The Time Of Her Time. “Bobby Brown” comes on like Lou Reed, pouting, prurient and reamed-out. In most departments: “Oh God I am the American Dream / With a spindle up my butt till it makes me scream.” The most charitable assumption is that these are intended as emetic impersonations, the gorge being about the easiest trigger in the gallery, and Zappa’s natural target.

Dwarfish chee-chee chipmunk voices in the choruses signal satire as surely as an aside like “wanna buy some mandies, Bob?” heralds a mindless imitation of Bob Dylan, himself a fairly derivative and vacous archer. Coprophagous to a degree, the most lovingly detailed travesty is reserved for the pop industry itself, with a nudge at soul, disco, close-harmony vocals and the blowsy ballad ticker-taping away on “I Have Been In You,” “Dancin’ Fool,” “Baby Snakes” and “Bobby Brown”. “I’m So Cute” has a punkish beat, but doesn’t feel it necessary to gauge its trajectory beyond a totem or two.

The instrumentals are mainly the Zappa guitar, and sound like derivative sitar licks circa a decade back. Which fits with everything else in this jaded and secondhand cosmology. “Yo’ Mama” is interminable, but “Rubber Shirt” – a blues bass excursion by Patrick O’Hearn over a tricky time-signature – is good, and I refuse to rise to the sleeve note which trails splicing as a possible increment in the umbrage stakes.