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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Frank Zappa

Them or Us

Review by Gary Hill

This is not your standard Zappa disc. Of course, what is that really? This covers a wide range of musical territory and is possibly his most diverse album. It’s got something for everyone, but probably most fans will find themselves drawn to different segments depending on their particular musical tastes.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Closer You Are
This is one of the “doo wop” type tracks that Zappa frequently did.
In France
Here we get a straightforward hard rocker that works quite well. It’s very bluesy and has a cool groove and some seriously tongue in cheek and risqué lyrics (but what do you expect from Zappa?)
Ya Hozna
A hard rocking cut, this is built on a killer riff and is a song that feels more like prog rock than anything we’ve heard here so far. The vocals sound to me like someone recorded a song and then played it backwards and learned how to sing it that way. I’m not positive that’s what happened here, but it sure sounds like it. It makes for a very weird effect in any event. There’s a killer extended guitar solo on the long outro to this.
Sharleena
The first half of this is a quirky, but quite prog oriented little number. Then it launches out into a screaming extended guitar solo. A return to the main musical theme later brings a more powerful rendition of it. 
Sinister Footwear II
How can you look at that title and not think of the old Steve Martin skit “The Cruel Shoes?” So, you say you are looking for the real prog content? Well, here is a classic vision. This is a screaming fusion instrumental. It moves from melodic to crunchy and covers a ton of musical ground in between. This is a great piece of music and a highlight of the set. Considering I’m not overly enamored of instrumentals that is very telling. This has a lot in common with music that would come much later like Dream Theater. 
Truck Driver Divorce
Now let’s turn to some Zappa weirdness. This is bouncy and tongue in cheek Zappa insanity. It does work out into a cool instrumental movement that’s very fusion like. At times this wandering extended movement reminds me of Jimi Hendrix. 
Stevie's Spanking
With tongue and cheek lyrics (and once again risque) about Zappa guitarist Steve Vai, this turns later from straight ahead rocker to a guitar driven instrumental tour-de-force. I like this one a lot. In fact, it’s probably one of two or three candidates for my favorite track on show here. 
Baby, Take Your Teeth Out
OK, if you are familiar with Frank Zappa you can probably figure out what the lyrics are about. It’s a bouncy little piece of standard Zappa weird fare. 
Marque-Son's Chicken
Another instrumental, this is also another fusion oriented jam. It’s got a lot in common with UK, but it also has some Dregs in the mix in terms of groove. Of course, it’s all Frank Zappa. The one complaint I could see about this instrumental movement is that it gets a little long winded and noodly before it ends. 
Planet of My Dreams
Here we get an old time musical dittie. This is pretty cool, if a bit strange. 
Be in My Video
Bouncy and fun, much of this is a 1950’s Doo Wop number.
Them or Us
The title track is a weird, but also quite cool, prog meets noisy fusion instrumental. 
Frogs With Dirty Little Lips
Here we get a moody, bouncy little piece of Zappa weirdness.
Whipping Post
They play it straight on this scorching hard rocking cover of the Allman Brothers. We get some xylophone, but otherwise this is quite standard. Of course, it also rocks out quite well. I’ve always really liked this song and this version is a real screamer.
 
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