Frank Zappa: Tinsel Town Rebellion

By Mark Peel

Stereo Review, October 1981

FRANK ZAPPA: Tinsel Town Rebellion. Frank Zappa (vocals, guitar); vocal and instrumental accompaniment. Love of My Life; I Ain't Got No Heart; Panty Rap; Tell Me You Love Me; Fine Girl; Easy Meat; For the Young Sophisticate; Dance Contest; and seven others. BARKING PUMPKIN PW2 37336 two discs, © WAX 37336, Ⓑ WTX 37336, no list price.

Performance: Chilling
Recording: Excellent

I began listening to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in high school, more than thirteen years ago, and for years afterward I devoured each new release of his with unseemly passion. Among the things of lasting value Zappa introduced me to were contemporary jazz, twentieth-century classical composers, and healthy skepticism.

About five years ago, however, Zappa's devastating satire seemed to collapse into a weary and wearying cynicism. On "Overnight Sensation" and "A-pos-tro-phe" his strange inventiveness, a product equally of his eagerness to experiment and his disdain for popularity, was abandoned for a bitter mixture of "fusion" music and Caesar's Palace put-downs. The new live set, "Tinsel Town Rebellion," is a sixty-two-minute harangue. It seems there's nothing Zappa doesn't dislike, and his targets here are as banal as the worn-out stage act he's been dragging around for years: Mexican tarts, Brut cologne, Cosmo, the record biz, fast food. He makes these cheap shots with such condescension he must think he's the only one left who isn't sick, stupid, or crooked.

Zappa's music, too, seems to have reached a dead end. There are a few ingenious instrumental passages or choice solos, but for the most part he fills out the concert with mock-Las Vegas formula stuff. The abundant synthesizer sounds are the kind of thing he would once have parodied, not duplicated. As with other recent live packages, the old material stands out: the highlights here are Peaches III, a reworking of Peaches en Regalia, and Brown Shoes Don't Make It, a song whose mordant wit makes the tawdriness of Zappa's new tinsel all the more apparent.

As dispiriting as Zappa's creative decline is his evident growing contempt for women and for his audiences in general. His fans deserve better than a hypocritical dedication of the album to "all our friends who have attended our concerts year after year, all over the world, without whose support these performances would not have been possible." Zappa's real feelings for those "friends" are shown by Dance Contest, in which several members of the audience are egged on to participate in a grotesque, humiliating game. Zappa's antics aren't funny any more, let alone liberating – just irritating and nasty.