FRANK ZAPPA -- Assorted Titles (Rykodisc)

This spring, Rykodisc reissued the entire Zappa catalog (sans 200 Motels) -- now available with the "FZ approved masters". Most of the reissues have been quite impressive. However, others have not fared as well. Starting with the classic "Apostrophe(')" album, this review will briefly describe seven of the new CDs.

APOSTROPHE(') -- The sound on this CD is incredible. The instruments and vocals are all very well defined. For the first time, the "Wooooh" at the beginning of "Uncle Remus" is clear and not distorted at all. Also for the first time, the lyrics are included (previously only available with the vinyl version in "The Old Masters Box Three"). The only bad thing about the new "Apostrophe(')" is that the CD is too short. Previously a 2-for-1 title with "Overnight Sensation", Ryko has decided now to make us buy both titles individually. Still, it's a great CD and the sound is better than ever.

STUDIO TAN / SLEEP DIRT -- These two albums were originally intended to be part of the Lather box set. Caught in the legal battle that Zappa had with Warner Brothers, they ended up being released individually to fulfill his contractual obligation. Both Ryko CDs sound better than the original Discreet albums, and feature new artwork by Gary Panter under the CD trays. The "Sleep Dirt" CD has new drum overdubs by Chad Wackerman on three songs. Unfortunately, it also has noticeable tape hiss as well.

SHEIK YERBOUTI -- Considered by many to be Zappa's finest album, the sound quality on the Ryko CD is much warmer than the shallow-sounding UK EMI version. The bass is deeper and much more resonant. The bad thing is that Ryko cut 1:16 from the end of "I'm So Cute". True -- the ending of the song gets annoying. However, there was plenty of room to include "Sheik Yerbouti" in its entirety. While the new Ryko CD sounds very good, neither it nor the EMI version sound as good as the original Zappa Records vinyl release.

TINSELTOWN REBELLION -- Originally released on Zappa's Barking Pumpkin label, "Tinseltown Rebellion" was the result of segments of various live shows recorded on the Crush All Boxes tour in 1980. Once again, Ryko has edited the endings on two songs. In this case though, it was just the applause at the end of the side of the albums. The sound on the CD is excellent, as is the dynamic range. The CD includes some great renditions of several older FZ songs, such as "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", "Peaches En Regalia" (titled "Peaches III" on this CD), "Tell Me You Love Me" and several others.

FRANK ZAPPA MEETS THE MOTHERS OF PREVENTION -- Largely an instrumental album, this CD was Zappa's first recorded effort featuring the synclavier. "FZ Meets the MOP" includes Zappa's homage to some of the musicians who have died over the years, "We're Turning Again". It also features the original instrumental version of "What's New in Baltimore", and "I Don't Even Care" from the import album (one of three bonus tracks previously unavailable on the US vinyl). The vocals on "I Don't Even Care" are very clear and distinct.

DOES HUMOR BELONG IN MUSIC? -- Previously only available in Europe, "Humor" consists of live performances from the 1984 tour. Featuring all new artwork, the CD includes some great new songs, like "Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel" and "Let's Move to Cleveland" (originally known as "Kreegah Bondolo"). Rather than edit performances on this CD, Ryko gives us an additional minute of Chad Wackerman's drum solo on "Cleveland". The CD has been remixed for the new Ryko release, and the sound is markedly better. The instruments and voices are all much more defined, and the low-end (which was virtually non-existent before) has been restored. Also on this CD is a blistering version of "Whippin' Post", with a special on-stage appearance by Dweezil -- the only concert in which he performed publicly with his father.

These are just a few of the over fifty Zappa CDs reissued by Rykodisc this year. A few of them don't quite live up to expectations, but the majority of them are greatly improved over the originals.

© 1997 Steve Marshall