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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, May 2, 1995
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Studio Tan by Frank Zappa
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Originally released in 1978, one of three albums (with SLEEP DIRT and ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES) comprised of material originally intended for the unreleased box set LATHER, recorded between 1974-1976. This material was originally lost in Zappa's contractural disputes with Warner Brothers; it's now here in fully-authorized form.
This album's centerpiece is "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary," a 24-plus minute mini-opera (written in 1972) that's a sequel of sorts to "Billy the Mountain" on JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM L.A. Also here is "Lemme Take You to the Beach," the closest thing to a Jan & Dean song that FZ ever wrote.
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This offering opens with "Lather's" closer, "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary," a twenty-plus minute story set to music, much in the style of The Mothers' "Billy The Mountain," but with the use of lots and lots of studio gimmickry; where "Billy" was recorded live on stage, this is a recording of studio wizardry circa 1972. It shares some conceptual material with its predecessor, but is a different piece altogether. Like a lot of Frank Zappa's work, the lyrics, dialogue, and narration are quite silly, especially here, where the protagonist's voice was recorded with a variable-speed oscillator, sounding like Zappa was recorded in a room full of helium, but true to form, this belies some incredible musicianship going on underneath. It becomes more impressive with repeated listenings, guaranteed.
"Revised Music For Guitar And Low-Budget Orchestra" is, on the surface, a rambling, tuneless set of rhythms and partial melodies, but a little concentrated listening, again, shows, this an intricately crafted composition. Bruce Fowler's trombone is playing with FZ's guitar melodies throughout, and the whole ensemble is playing coordinated multiple rhythms and countermelodies all the while.
"Lemme Take You To The Beach" features a double-tracked vocal by sound engineer Davey Moire, a self-parody, in a way. Every time Moire sang on a Zappa record, he used that high, nasal falsetto, but nonetheless, it is somewhat endearing, and right for the piece. Still, despite being lightweight and silly, it is a serious, furiously played number.
RDNZL was the result of extended jams in the studio, the ideas being arranged into what Zappa called "sound sculptures," and a mainstay of live shows until he retired from the road in 1988. Like so many pieces from the Zappa catalogue, it is a jazz number which rock audiences fully appreciate.
It seems that Zappa's appeal was much wider when he didn't have an axe to grind; material which isn't "in your face," with a Pop/Rock edge to it, because in cases like this, such as "Studio Tan" and other similar offerings, negative discussions and reviews are rare. He and the band had lots of fun with it, and it shows in the finished product.
The album kicks off with a twenty plus minute (how is that for audacity?) classical-jazz-fusion musical collage which tells the story of a pig, essentially. It's twenty plus minutes of engaging composition, amazing execution, a handful of laughs, and an end result that resembles nothing else out there. The only thing it sounds like is Zappa, in that "intricately composed yet sounds effortless" fashion. The song was originally performed live as an instrumental (available on "Wazoo"), and was a true show stopper, complete with solos and extended passages. It's a different beast here, with Zappa's lyrics providing a nearly cartoonish aspect, but that only adds to the overwhelming nature of the whole composition. Amazing.
The album continues with "Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra", which kind of sounds exactly likes it's name. It is one of Zappa's more disjointed orchestral numbers but it definitely has a charm, especially thanks to a swinging little section near the end. "Lemme Take You to the Beach" is a short burst of fifties beach bopping music (played at a Zappa level)that serves as a reminder that for all the potentially lumbersome orchestration that preceded this number, Zappa is a fun, grooving guy at heart. This song unites the entire album together and essentially serves as its heart, while the other three songs strut and show off.
"RDNZL" closes the album, one of Zappa's most impressive eight minutes of music. Again, there's intricate composition perfectly performed, followed by a searing guitar solo, interupted by a rapid series of jolting, yet amusing, instrumental interludes, followed by a danceable keyboard solo, finishing off with the band playing a minute of music most bands could never handle. Simply sick.
It is hard to describe what it is that Zappa has created on this album. In his 30 year career, however, he put out very few albums as unified and consistently amazing as this one. Own it!
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Studio Tan is one of the most criminally underrated albums in Frank Zappa's vast body of music.Sleep Dirt (also very underrated), and Orchestral Favorites as apart of the material originally designed for the LätherRead more