Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Studio Tan

“Studio Tan” is a studio album that Frank Zappa released that largely features leftovers from other releases that were either withheld because Zappa had second thoughts, or because he faced resistance from the record companies. The latter issue largely concerns Zappa’s original vision for “Lather.” But even that is open to debate. However, my blog is not to sort through, nor clarify, the legal issues, obstacles, problems and shenanigans that Zappa faced during the mid- to late-1970s when his recording and production efforts were gradually morphing into a completely independent company and publishing firm.

It’s about the music. And the most important observation that can be made about “Studio Tan” can be summed up in one song title: “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary.” There’s a lot going on in this piece, and its sheer brilliance makes purchasing “Studio Tan” worth the price.

To begin with, “Greggery Peccary” is an immense musical piece, filled with complexity that calls forth images within the listener to match the comedic story line. It’s literally like a cartoon, but unlike any cartoon you have likely seen. And to liken this opus to a cartoon in no way besmirches its brilliance. This is no child’s cartoon; this ain’t Bugs Bunny. I find it rather amazing that this item was initially created with the thought that it would be performed as a ballet. Unsurprisingly, however, the piece is filled with classic “project/object” references from Zappa’s catalog, including “Billy the Mountain” and “Big Swifty.” There’s also a reference to the “short forest,” which alludes to “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.”

Despite the cartoonish nature of the composition, the seriousness is not lost, particularly with the “fourth movement,” which introduces the “New Brown Clouds” theme in all its gloriousness. This particular track appears also on the bootleg “Great Wazoo EP,” as well as the official release of “Wazoo!” covering the Grand Wazoo form of the touring band (The bootleg has only this fourth movement, while “Wazoo!” has the entire “Greggery Peccary.”)

After all this musical brilliance comes the rest of the album, which unfortunately launches into the inane “Let Me Take You to the Beach.” I mean, gee, after the sublime “Gregerry Peccary,” we get a cheesy song with lyrics like, “Eat a candy!/You are dandy!/Can I kiss you?/Maybe I’ll just hold your hand-dee!” Not one of Frank’s better compositions. “Wowie Zowie” from “Freak Out!” had more class than this.

Next comes “Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra” (which is in reverse order on the CD release). This has a very nice piano set piece early on by George Duke, but the piece is largely guitar-centric, despite a brief march-style segue about two minutes into the song. This is followed by a guitar theme that is very reminiscent of “Burnt Weeny Sandwich.” Just before the five-minute mark on this song, the sound takes on a very large feel, with a big band style in the likeness of “The Grand Wazoo.” This is good stuff. Interestingly, the composition also goes by the title “Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra,” with uncredited strings coming in toward the end.

“RDNZL” comes in to finish the album, a piece that has also appeared as “Redunzel” on the Beat the Boots release of “Piquantique,” and as “RDUNZL” on the LP release of this recording. This has a pretty decent guitar solo reminiscent of the style found on “One Size Fits All,” although it was written in 1972. Incidentally, RDNZL is a constellation in the “universe” of “One Size Fits All.” Check the original album cover. There’s been wide speculation as to what the title means or implies. Zappa allegedly has said it had something to do with the sequence of gears on an automatic. I think he was joking and nobody got it, especially Warner Bros., which changed the title to “Redunzel.”

I rate this album four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released Sept. 15, 1978; DiscReet Records.

LP release:

Side One
Greggery Peccary (20:40)

Side Two
Let Me Take You To The Beach (2:44)
Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra (7:36)
REDUNZL (8:12)

CD release:

The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary (20:35)
Revised Music For Guitar And Low Budget Orchestra (7:37)
Lemme Take You To The Beach (2:45)
RDNZL (8:14)


Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals, percussion
George Duke – keyboards
John Berkman – piano
Michael Zearott – conductor
Pamela Goldsmith – viola
Murray Adler – violin
Sheldon Sanov – violin
Jerry Kessler – cello
Edward Meares – bass guitar
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Don Waldrop – trombone
Jock Ellis – trombone
Dana Hughes – bass trombone
Earle Dumler – oboe
JoAnn Caldwell – McNab bassoon
Mike Altschul – flute
Graham Young – trumpet
Jay Daversa – trumpet
Malcolm McNab – trumpet
Ray Reed – flute
Victor Morosco – saxophone
John Rotella – woodwind instruments
Alan Estes – percussion
Emil Richards – percussion
Tom Fowler – bass guitar
Chester Thompson – drums
Davey Moire – vocals
Eddie Jobson – keyboards, yodeling
Max Bennett – bass guitar
Paul Humphrey – drums
Don Brewer – bongos
James "Bird Legs" Youmans – bass guitar


Tim said...

man, I love this album and can't belive you don't like Lemme Take You to the Beach… the instrumentation is incredible…

Richard Harrold said...

Ah well, Tim, just wasn't my taste. Overall, it is a very good release.