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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Banned From Utopia

So Yuh Don't Like Modern Art

Review by Gary Hill

A strong debate rages among progressive rock fans as to whether or not Frank Zappa qualifies as prog. I know that I am in disagreement with my friend and prog authority Bill Martin over this matter, as I feel that FZ's music does fit under the banner. That said, I am including Banned From Utopia as a prog album for several reasons. First, the group was formed to cover Frank Zappa's music at renowned jazz festival, and includes several members who played in various incarnations of Zappa's groups. With that type of a beginning, the group creates mostly jazz arrangements of both Zappa cuts and originals. The music has all the weirdness, and where does this really fit in quality of FZ's style, along with the sense of humor. They therefore seem to do a good job of keeping the spirit of Zappa alive.

With this CD they have given us a fine sampling of their style that includes quite a few cuts penned by Zappa, and quite a few of their own. The result should entertain Zappa fans everywhere, while possibly bringing in new listeners from the world of jazz, prog and other genres.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Freeway Vigilante
This track starts on in full on country and western style from about as far south as you can imagine. As it carries on, though, slight elements of weirdness, in addition to the tongue-in-cheek lyrics appear. As the focus changes from the description of the female character in the story, the weirdness ensues. It turns to a twisted Zappaish form of metal for a time, then becomes a melange that is hard to keep up with. For a time jazz, opera, rock and other elements enter. Eventually a prog rock type of jam shows up and carries the composition for a while. Then it shifts back to the weirdness, this time with even elements of Tejano music thrown in. The cut alternates between these modes before shifting back to the hillbilly reverie to end.
Dupree's Paradise
This one, the first Zappa creation on the CD, has a fusion sort of texture and just enough weirdness to ad flavor. This is a rather awesome instrumental excursion with a lot of style and flavor.
So Yuh Don't Like Modern Art
A strange crescendo starts this, then it explodes into a weird metallic chorus. Then an experimental freeform jazz type excursion erupts. This is dissonant and hard to follow. It then shifts to more metallic fury, eventually dropping to a great smooth jazz respite. It stays there for a while, gradually transforming. Then, "the big bands come back" in the form of a humorous spoken word introduction and a Glenn Milleresque jam. This really grooves and moves. The song ends with the band seemingly losing their cohesiveness.
Jail Bait Baby Sitter
This is a humorous rocker with all the zaniness of Zappa intact. It is fun and of-kilter. For those in favor of dynamic and evolving music, this one packs a lot of changes into 3 minutes.
Sinister Footware 2nd Movement
Another Zappa penned compositions, this one begins as a fairly smooth and straightforward jazz composition, but has enough eccentricity placed within to earmark it as FZ's handiwork, especially in the riff-driven off-kilter breaks. It takes a change to the sinister sounding about halfway through that is quite effective. This is a great cut that really jams.
Twenty Small Cigars
This Zappa instrumental comes in quite smooth and gentle. It is actually quite relaxing and a refreshing change from all the frantic changes of most of the rest of the album.
Tink Walks Amok/Thirteen
Another of the Zappa creations, this comes in funky. It begins a progish building process in great fusion-oriented modes. The piece wanders around these fusion/prog textures in pleasant form for quite some time, then explodes into a new potent and furious instrumental exploration. As the second movement enters it is as a full on jazz orchestra take on familiar Zappaisms of fast paced changes and left turns. A guitar line screams out after a time, and the rest of the band intensify their efforts to keep up with it. Then a return to the earlier themes from this second segment takes over to bring the piece to its ending crescendo.
Bad Dog
An off-kilter timing and frantic jamming starts this one with a sensation of nearly falling over, but somehow staying upright. The cut wanders through various explorations within this theme, punctuated by a more melodic stable section. It then cuts into a bridge that is more full-on prog. That sort of element carries forward until a reprise of the earlier themes enters. Then an all-new frantic fusion oriented movement takes over and eventually gives way to a helter skelter guitar solo. This frantically runs through for a time, then the earlier themes return. A funky break leads into a percussion solo, then it's back to that funk. The band all join in now, playing on this new theme for a time, then the opening themes return once more to end the composition.
Filthy Habits
The final Zappa cut on show here, this one begins dark and mysterious. As the whole band enters it feels quite dramatic and strong. A few fast paced elements of Zappa's unique blend of genius and weirdness show up, mostly in an extended instrumental break/guitar solo segment, but the intro and outro to this one are both fairly straightforward fusion.
Christian Coalition Blues
The album closer, this starts as a solid bluesy torch type number, complete with scat singing. This one is lyrically a take on Tipper Gore's PMRC and Jerry Fallwell's infamous group and their attempts to legislate their form of morality. This is a pretty straight-ahead bluesy jazz number and good clean fun for the firs t3 minutes or so. Then it shifts to a humorous Zappa-type arrangement with a Weird Al-ish take on Pat Robertson and others. The lyrics here so powerful and humorous that it's hard to believe that FZ didn't write them himself. After then extended rap/break the cut moves back to its earlier themes, but another rap comes up to take it to the outro - a short clip from the PMRC hearings themselves.
 
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