Joe's Garage - Live & Uncensored - Broken English

By Michael Shore

Musician, March 1980

FRANK ZAPPA Joe's Garage, Acts II & III, Zappa/Phonogram SRZ-2-1502
MILLIE JACKSON Live & Uncensored, Spring / Polydor SP-2-6725
MARIANNE FAITHFULL Broken English, Island ILPS 9570.

Sex. How can something that's supposed to be so natural, such a pleasure, such fun, be such a godawful BITCH? Here are three albums that explore the question.

Joe's Garage is Zappa's latest sleazy, smarmy opus: an involuted, futuristic fable set in a police state where people get it off with kitchen appliances and so on. For quite awhile now Zappa's satiric compulsion has been degenerating into alarmingly misanthropic dreckmongering. What I find so objectionable about this album, aside from the relentlessly dull and overwrought music and the blandly competent playing, is its utter hopelessness. Zappa has apparently become so cynical – about sex, about people, about music, about everything – that he even feels it's impossible to make a meaningful record. People want to keep him a huge star and imprison him in trite expectations and product-think? Okay then, says Frank, I'll rub their noses in it. What's so sad is that the joke may not be on him; Joe's Garage will more than likely be as big a seller with Zappa's followers as any of his other slick product. What's even sadder is that Zappa does evince native talent, insight and intelligence, but so little now that one is tempted to forget the good work he's done in the past. Like Pink Floyd's The Wall – another flatulent epic – Joe's Garage can't help but mirror some important exigencies of Our Times, but it's a destructive, time-wasting indulgence all the same. Zappa just does not rise above the level of his own scatological insults and references. There are no new insights, no solutions, hope or laughs.

What I'd love to see is Frank Zappa locked in a room with Millie Jackson. She'd teach him. Long known as an accomplished Gladys Knight-styled soul singer with a gift for raunchy rapping, Millie Jackson is, how you say, a right-on woman. Live & Uncensored presents a definitive compilation of her singing some greatest hits, rapping and interacting magnificently with her audience. She is as aware of the personal/political ramifications surrounding Sex, Getting and Enjoying It, as anyone. She's sassy, soulful, buoyantly funny, ebulliently bitchy. Unlike Zappa, she won't let herself wallow in capricious bitterness – she respects herself too much for that, so instead turns her righteous anger into an uplifting bluecollar catharsis for every wronged woman (and some wronged men, too), and there are a lot of them in the live audience testifying back. While some of her raps, like "Logs 'n' Thangs" ( my fireplace, your log), are a bit too much on the gratuitous/obvious side, and there is some filler (do we really need another, near-identical version of Toto's "Hold the Line"?), most of the music is tight and smooth, her timing and singing are great, and she gets off some voluptuously vengeful verbiage on raps like " Be a Sweetheart" and "The Soaps." (Too bad we won't be hearing "The Phuck You Symphony" on the radio.) You listen to this album after Zappa and realize there's still hope. Thank you, Millie.

Finally, there is Marianne Faithfull's Broken English. Whether Faithfull intended it to or not, this record gains plenty of added resonance from our awareness of her past. Faithfull was one of the first of many whose lives were ruined through association with the Rolling Stones. Her odyssey from innocent folkie to mysterious/mod Old Lady to forgotten reject to drug addict to acclaimed-actress-laboring-without-big-success bespeaks a chilling knowledge of the darker underside of Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll. It's there in her voice: raspy, nasal, corroded, like Stevie Nicks gone to hell and back and better for it, too. Junk, pain, booze, late- night arguments: all right there, putting the razor's edge on the sharp, discoid pop of her super-efficient band (all no-names except for guest Steve Winwood). While it's an erratic album, Broken English has enough great moments to make it a harrowing and revelatory listening experience. At its best – the title cut, "Brain Drain," "Guilt," "What's the Hurry" – it presents someone who (like Zappa) is a victim of herself, her image, her past; and who, like Millie Jackson, refuses to take it lying down. The celebrated "Why D'Ya Do It," the track responsible for the "May contain language offensive to some listeners" sticker on the cover, is a striking, interesting failure: a spume of vengeful sexual vitriol that leaves nothing to the imagination, it ends up sitting there gloriously nasty and not much more. Still, better this than Joe's Garage (though better Millie's "Be a Sweetheart" than this). A greater mistake is the cover version of "Working Class Hero." No one should try to remake it, ever. Still, Broken English stands as a dramatically forceful statement by someone who can rightfully claim the overused title of "survivor." While not the self-assured avenging angel Millie Jackson is, Faithfull does achieve a demonic transcendence; unlike Zappa, she rises above her own crap. Roxy Music's Manifesto may be the comeback of the year; Broken English is the comeback of the decade.