This is the dog talkin’ now.
This album comes right after Over-Nite Sensation which was an album I really loved. It moved more in the direction of smart song structures, catchy melodies and really immaculate rock production. Apostrophe was also, if I’m recalling correctly, the highest charting album Zappa ever had. I therefore anticipated liking this album a lot more than I did. The album is at its best when it’s following the pattern of Over-Nite Sensation in its production and song quality. The production on the entire album is really wonderful; it just sounds great. The title instrumental in particular sounds fantastic and is pretty great on its own terms as well, just to get that out of the way. I think a big part of my problem with this album is that I don’t really care for the song suite that opens the album; a lot of people love it and if I loved it, then I’d probably give this album a super-high rating, but I don’t. I have to admit that I don’t like Zappa’s overly enthusiastic, purposely cheesy delivery of the lyrics and especially the spoken word sections on this album (they also show up on Stinkfoot, the album closer, another disappointing number) really grate on me. The winking is just so overt that it’s almost condescending. St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast is easily the best of the suite, thanks mainly to Ruth Underwood just once again owning the entire world with her marimba skills. The album is better when it’s working in a classic song format and also being a bit more socially conscious. Cosmik Debris is a fantastic spoof of gurus and the enlightenment culture of the seventies and Uncle Remus, probably the best song on the record, is catchy, pointed and super-smart. This isn’t an awful album by any means. The production is great, as I said, and secondly, at their worst, the songs are mediocre, not terrible. If, like a lot of people, you think the song suite is a masterpiece, then, sure, you’re going to put this album very, very high in your list of Zappa’s albums. Frankly, I wouldn’t say anything on here is particularly masterful, with the exception of the title track and maybe Uncle Remus; for the rest, pretty middling. Mostly unremarkable. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – well-produced album falls short in the area of its songs, with only a couple of tracks really being remarkable; never particularly bad, just never particularly good either. 2 ½ stars.