Frank Zappa "Läther"

By Richard Gehr

Rolling Stone, October 3, 1996

Frank Zappa


IF THE LATE FRANK ZAPPA HAD released the four-LP set Läther as intended in 1977, it would have been his most significant album since 1969's Uncle Meat. Unfortunately his record company at the time said no thanks; the label then cannibalized Läther into four separate releases – Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites – that were released over the next couple of years. A dismayed and petulant Zappa once played Läther in its entirety over a Pasadena, Cali£, radio station, encouraging listeners to tape it off the air. Now the Zappa Family Trust has reconstituted this popular bootlegged item as an engorged three-disc set that includes outtakes and remixes.

Läther whips the length and breadth of Zappa's extensive musical concerns into a challenging froth, making this a particularly fine introduction to his work. The album opens with the fulsome cartoon pomp of "Regyptian Strut" and concludes nearly three hours later with the knotty "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary," an extremely peculiar operetta. Musique concrete and snappy verbal asides serve as dadaesque grout joining extended guitar improvisations, complex orchestral works, psychedelic jazz, down-and-dirty R&B and hilariously smarmy and politically incorrect musical theater. Zappa, I suspect, will eventually be recognized as his century's most important musical maximalist. Few genres or sociological quirks escaped his wry and prolific scrutiny.

The aggressively clever Zappa always composed and performed as though his life depended on it. On Läther, densely textured orchestral works like "Pedro's Dowry" and "Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra" are in their own way no less energetically macho than the raucous locker-room observations of "Titties and Beer" and "Punky's Whips," which themselves are musically more interesting than they might appear on the surface. And, jeezus, the man could play guitar – just listen to the otherworldly feedback of "Filthy Habits" or Zappa's crystalline rainfall sound on the title track. Like everything else on this reconfigured bonanza, these old masters have only improved with age.