I wasn’t even sure this was a real Zappa release at a first glance. “Guitar”? What kind of bland, lifeless name is that? By regular artist standards, Guitar would be a fine name, but compare it to such candidly titled albums like Weasels Ripped My Flesh
, Sheik Yerbouti
, and We’re Only in it for the Money
. Now the name just sucks! Listening to this for the first time I could easily think of better names, like “Frank Zappa Masturbates on Stage”
. It’s vulgar, sums up the album, it’s perfect! But obviously a name like that would cause problem with the Zappa-hating censors in the 80s, who once put a Parental Advisory sticker on an entirely instrumental album for having the song title “G-Spot Tornado”. The only thing censored here is anything that isn’t a guitar solo. Guitar
is two discs of pure guitar solos Zappa did live, whether it’d be just an sole song based on a guitar solo, or full songs that have been altered just to include the solo; basically, a guitar wanker’s dream.
As impressive as his guitar playing is, though, I am not very impressed with the album. A lot of Frank Zappa’s work is wildly ambitious, like making his own movies, writing rock operas, or composing hundreds of music pieces on the ridiculously expensive synthesizing machine the Synclavier, but rarely does it ever feel overblown to the point of no longer being enjoyable. Though a simple concept, this does just that, I don’t understand why Zappa would bother putting together a double album of guitar solos, especially after already releasing a three disc set of them (the Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar
series). He was no doubt one of the most brilliant musicians of the 20th century, but the idea of releasing this seems like something a low brow shredder like Yngwie Malmsteen would think of. Oh wait. Malmsteen does
I do enjoy guitar solos, but they have so much more impact when there’s a build-up to them. When one amplifies the mood of the song, it can be the best feeling in the world. But simply listening to excerpts of solos seems pointless for the most part, like skipping most of a dramatic film to see the 2 minutes of where someone gets killed.
The main problem with the album’s solos is that after listening to all of them in a row, one could only tell a handful apart. Mostly every song follows a rigid groove, with each backing musician playing prosaically, with the exception of the drummer, who throws in some impressive fills. This leaves Zappa’s guitar literally solo, with the rest of the band like sitting ducks. I know they’re guitar solos, but it usually helps with the whole band actually gets into a groove instead of robotically just backing up. It sometimes gets to a point where it’s near impossible to tell which tracks are lifted from other songs, or actual instrumentals.
There are occasional moments when Zappa’s tube fuzz driven playing does call for attentions. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
features a rare moment of organic jamming, and a unique bluesy feel that makes a strong opener. Longer songs like That Ol’ G Minor Thing Again
and Variations on Sinister #3
appear to put Zappa in a restless mood, as they feature more spontaneity and weird sounds effects than other songs (if there’s any in them.) Canadian Customs
’ jittery tempo and fluctuating drumming actually dominate over the guitar solo. None of these exactly save the album from being a disaster, as it took me heavily repeated listens of the album to spot highlights without dosing off or feeling every song run together as the same thing.
is the last place the check when looking for Zappa’s creativity, songwriting skills, and humour. Unless one is a completist or wants to really dig into Zappa’s soloing. Even if someone is the latter, the Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar
series is much more varied and spontaneous, despite still having many of the same negatives as this. Listening to two discs of Frank Zappa actually masturbating onstage might have made a better live album.