Frank Zappa's work has always pushed the limits of conventional rock and strived to be as experimental as humanly possible. The early 1980s however was arguably Zappa's most experimental, as well as his worst years critically and commercially. You Are What You Is makes such a point of offending people it ultimately proves unlistanable and Thing-Fish was quite possibly the most ill conceived plot behind a C.D. ever fabricated. However one C.D. does stand above the others and that is The Man From Utopia.
The Man From Utopia is once again an experimental outing from Zappa and like most of his C.D.’s from the era the musical styles vary from song to song. But what sets this C.D. apart from the others is it's overall humorous tone and is however not as cruel as much of his other works. Don't fret though. He still retains his lyrical wit. Every song is very short as well.
The first two songs of the album are the most "conventional" rock tracks available. Cocaine Decisions opens up with Zappa saying, "Chop a line now" and then the band kicks in with some enjoyable harmonica, which is dispersed throughout the song. The piano also stands out in this song. The lyrics focus mainly on drug-addicts in the workplace making important decisions that affect us all (least that’s what I gathered). SEX is a more guitar-oriented track than the first. Its lyrics are hilarious as Zappa sings about what is most dear to him...sex. The funniest line is when he chants the infamous line "the bigger the cushion the better the pushin." They may be simple rock tracks but they are two of the strongest on the C.D.
Another thing that stands out as interesting in this album are Zappa's 3 "spoken" songs. The Dangerous Kitchen is a complete throw away track. Zappa through away all the music for a terrible drumbeat, disjointed instruments, and focused only on a ridiculous vocal output of very stupid lyrics. The Jazz Discharge Party hats again delivers nothing impressive and features the same manically out of sync instrumentation. So why mention what I consider the two worst tracks on the album when I'm trying to make a point that this album is overall good? Well because I want to make a point that this "spoken" verse song type though it fails to deliver on two occasions it is completely successful on another. This successful song is "The Radio is Broken". This is second best song on the whole C.D. It starts out in a similar fashion as the last two songs but this time Roy Estrada, a former band member of Zappa, provides funny backing vocals. Their voices echo and provide a very spacey effect. After a little bit some atmospheric guitar licks play over a simple but catchy bassline. I concluded the guitar part is from Steve Vai, who worked with Zappa during most of the 80s, from his signature Van Halen-esque sound, but I could be wrong so don't quote me. This vocal-to-guitar pattern continues throughout the song. This is also the longest track at 5:51.
There are three instrumental tracks as well and all of them are very strong songs. Tiny Walks Amok is the first one sports a very funny base line and the style is much like the instrumental style from "Freak Out". The next instrumental is We Are Not Alone. It has some great saxophone and has a very tropical vibe. Moggio is the last instrumental, best track, and last track on the album. The guitar work is the most impressive it was on the album. Vai just completely showcases his talents here.
The other songs not mentioned cannot be clumped into he other categories as they are all very unique and stand out among the rest. The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou is a classic 50s song, Stand Alone is an anti-union reggae number, and Luigi and The Wise Guys is a Capella again featuring Estrada's signature falsetto.
Ultimately this album is an enjoyable experience for any Zappa fan. Though it sports to very boring tracks that mar it's rating slightly, the rest of the album's quirky, light-hearted experimentation is to be applauded. Zappa manages to sound like he is re-inventing his sound only for enjoyment and he never strikes me as self-indulgent in this great album.