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Frank Zappa

Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

Review by Gary Hill

This 1982 Zappa album has some cool stuff. It's probably best known for the song "Valley Girl," which features his daughter Moon Unit on spoken vocals. It should be noted that I previously reviewed that tune for a compilation album review, and the review here is adapted from that one for the sake of consistency. That cut is part of the first half of the disc, which contains the three studio tracks. The second half is made up of three live songs. It should be noted that this one of the Zappa albums that includes Steve Vai on guitar. This has some particularly odd stuff, but also some powerful and rather amazing, too.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
No Not Now

A bit funky and so cool, this thing has a real tongue-in-cheek vibe to it, largely from the falsetto vocals. The whole tune has such a cool groove. It is a lot of fun, too. There is a real driving energy here. The bass line is so tasty. The multiple layers of vocals bring so much to the piece, too.

Valley Girl
What can you say about this one? It feels like it comes right out of the previous number. Another of Zappa’s biggest hits, this has a rubbery bass line driving it. We get the “vall” spoken monologue from Moon Unit Zappa. This is a great tune. This still holds up despite the dated lyrics.
I Come from Nowhere
This has that same sort of cool funk groove, but delivered with an edge that's both more hard rocking and more fusion like. The vocals are in a total demented lounge lizard style and a bit hard to take at times. Still, in a strange way that is one of its charms. The guitar solo is purely on fire. The whole jam later in the piece is incendiary, really.
Drowning Witch
The first of the live tracks on the set, this comes in seriously funky. As it continues it works into some bizarre, twisted lounge-lizard jazz. The shifts and changes on this are so crazy. There is a real freeform vibe, but the whole band tunes into all the changes, to it's anything but improvised. It's a tribute to the musicianship of all involved that this works so well. They twist out into a killer rocking jam further down the road that works through instrumentally and covers some great territory. This extensive instrumental movement is so cool. Each incarnation has its own charms. The guitar work creates an otherworldly environment at times. At over twelve minutes of music, this is an extended piece. A lot of it is taken up by this instrumental movement. They use that space to really cover a lot of territory. This segues into the next piece.
Envelopes
Trippy sort of Rock In Opposition fusion is the concept of this piece. It's an off-kilter by design kind of thing based on weird angular bits. Yet, as strange as it is, it's also compelling and effective.
Teen-Age Prostitute
Coming out of the previous number, this pounds in hard rocking. The vocals are weird and operatic. The arrangement shifts and turns with fast paced cornering. This is fairly short, but you wouldn't know it from all the variety and strangeness they manage to weave into this thing.
 
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