7 of 7 thought this review was well written
Frank Zappa has so many albums to his name throughout his career that it can be very difficult to keep track. By 1979 he had over twenty albums released, whether they were solo albums, live albums, or others with The Mother’s of Invention and with genres ranging from rock to jazz fusion with countless guests, instruments and concepts used. Some remain standouts such as Hot Rats
, Sheik Yerbouti
, and Zoot Allures
while others are not given initial credit and are often underrated/overlooked from a casual standpoint. Zappa’s final album of the seventies, a concept album, the triple LP Joe’s Garage
is surely one of his better and indeed interesting works he has done, remaining one of his most noticeable works of the decade. Joe’s Garage
was originally not all released at once however. In September of ’79, Act 1 was released as a stand alone record and 2 months later the two final acts were unveiled as a double album, finishing the story. Later, a reissue set was released comprising of all three acts available on compact disc making it easier to purchase and comprehend.
As mentioned, Joe’s Garage
is a concept album, something Zappa is familiar with. After all, it is often said that his debut album Freak Out!
is one of, if not the first concept (and double) albums there was. This album follows a very coherent story line, although it may strike many as stupid, even Zappa said so himself afterwards. But nevertheless and perhaps most importantly, it is hilarious and simultaneously has a meaning. The story line is so clear that inside the booklet there is a liner notes written as if they scenes in a play with narration and an introduction included. Musically, Joe’s Garage varies in genre. It ranges from the straight forward rock n’ roll (title track) to the psychedelic (Sy Borg
), pop/blues (Lucille Has Messed My Mind
), experimental (Catholic Girls
), and guitar instrumental (On The Bus
). Going back to the concept of the album, a cast is listed inside of the booklet listing the various characters in it. The album features the most contribution from guitarist Ike Willis, who joined Zappa in 1978. However Willis does not play guitar here but rather the voice of the main character Joe. And Frank Zappa, aside from playing lead guitar, plays various characters which will be mentioned as the story progresses.
The central focus and main theme of the album within the ongoing story of characters is that the government is going to ban music. It is narrated by ‘The Central Scrutinizer’, voiced by Zappa in a robotic, sometimes unclear low toned voice. He often has a little something to say before many of the songs. The album opener serves primarily as an intro and not as an actually song for listening entertainment. The three and a half minute intro has Zappa playing The Scrutinizer as he says “It is my responsibility to enforce that all laws haven’t been passed yet” and continues from there. The first real song on the album is one of his more popular songs, the title track, which introduces us to the first character, Joe, a boy who has discovered rock music and plays all the time in his small garage with his band, often making ruckus for the neighbors. Musically, it is the most straight forward song on here, with a jam rock, up-tempo feel and some great lyrics that are relatable to anyone who has been in a band. Joe has a girlfriend named Mary (voiced by Dale Bozzio) who is a Catholic girl, the central topic of the next track, Catholic Girls
. Musically the song is a complete contrast with the previous song with the odd backing vocals and funky bass line. By Crew Slut
, Mary leaves Joe to become a groupie for the road crew of a fictionist rock band Toad-O. The six-plus minute song is one of many to begin with the Central Scrutinizer talking before the song , which turns out to be one of the more monotonous and low key sounding on the record.
When Mary leaves Joe to join Toad-O’s road crew, she is eventually dropped off in Miami, which is the main subject in this next song, Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt
, where she enters a wet T-Shirt contest to make some money. The song is equally split in half, the first being the music portion which is a breezy, flowing laid back rock/jazz song with xylophone, and the other half being an interview with Mary at the contest. On The Bus
, an instrumental, is the first song here that really shows what a skilled guitarist Zappa was and is one of the better instrumentals on the album. With four minutes of pure guitar bliss, it’s a good relaxation time in the album after all the chaos that has happened before. Catching up on the story, now that Mary has left Joe, he starts seeing a girl named Lucille, who works at a Jack-In-The-Box. She, unfortunately for Joe, gives him an ‘unpronounceable disease’ which is discussed in the song Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?
One of the shorter and more rock orientated, the song makes for a pleasant highlight and is downright silly, but at the same time comical. The events from this song lead Joe to the title of the next song. Lucille Has Messed Up My Mind
is a soft, calm ballad with elements of pop rock and blues sounding like no other on the album. Scrutinizer Postlude closes the first act, and as the title would indicate, it is just The Scrutinizer summarizing all the bad things that have happened to Joe over the course of the first act, but a something new is revealed. Since Joe is so messed up and not really thinking straight, he goes and pays a whole lot of money to L. Ron Hoover at the ‘First Church of Appliantology (an obvious take on Scientology).
A Token Of My Extreme
is a mid-tempo, melodious song that doesn’t really standout oppose to the rest despite the array of different voices echoing throughout. The song introduces us to Hoover, who is also voiced by Zappa. And if you think the story could not get any sillier from here, think again. Joe becomes brainwashed and can now speak German. This results in Stick It Out
, an extremely up beat song with a steady bass line and exceptional guitar with lyrics entirely in German. The next string of sequences may strike so many as dumb so I will just briefly go over. Joe is ordered to go a club called The Closet where robot appliances dance free. Joe meets Sy Borg who is immediately drawn to Joe. One thing leads to another and they end up going back to an apartment. Yes, it happens and Joe ends up breaking Cy Borg. The song, like the lyrics, is a strange number with electronics, robot voices and odd noises lead by Zappa’s dominant vocals make for a certainly unusual song with an ambient finale, but not necessarily for the better. The song however drags way to long at nine minutes; however it is enjoyable for most. Because of the damage done to Cy Borg and no money to repay, Joe is thrown in a special jail with music execs which is the subject in Dong Work For Yuda
, after an intro from the Scrutinizer, quickly kicks into one of the funkiest on the album. Bass and vocals are the focus here and serve well. Mid-tempo like its predecessor, it is the better for the two, mainly because it ends four minutes sooner.
Jail isn’t the nicest place for Joe and it definitely isn’t the easiest time for him. Keep It Greasy
explains what happens and the title should give some indication. As for the song, it is eight and a half minutes of insanity. Very up beat like ‘Stick It Out’, the back up vocals makes this song a ton of fun as does Zappa’s lead vocals. The song is interrupted for an epic solo which takes over the latter half of the song ending it appropriately. Over the next few stages, Joe gets out of jail. The next few songs lyrically deal with Joe’s mental illness but what’s best about the last few songs on the album is Zappa’s guitar. With Joe thinking that critics are writing articles about his music, Joe goes and writes some of the most complex and lengthy guitar solos he has done, and the result is astounding. The first song on the last act, He Used To Cut The Grass
is for the majority an instrumental of some atmospheric series of guitar solos which totals eight minutes. Packard Goose
is the longest song on the album at over eleven minutes. It follows similar lines as its predecessor, that being a short time of lyrics until breaking into a lengthy and equally striking solo. The absolute highlight of the album and best showcase of Zappa’s guitar work is the stunning instrumental Watermelon In Easter Hay
. The spectacular, ambitious solo is simply one of the best he has done. Captivating, moving and entrancing are the only words I can think of to describe it. The Central Scrutinizer makes one final announcement on the final song A Little Green Rosetta
which is really sub-par musically to the rest but explains any last thought about the story. Joe’s doing a little better and now works at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (which was later the name of Zappa’s recording studio) frosting muffins.
In summary, Joe’s Garage
is one hell of a trip. Sure, the Scrutinizer’s voice can get a little irritating at times and some songs may go on longer than they should, but the positive aspects here greatly outweigh the opposite. It takes you through the chaotic journeys of Joe as well as the varying music styles of Zappa. It’s like no other album you will ever hear, but then again Frank Zappa is like no other artist you will hear. His lyrics have a way of taking serious subject matter and adding a satirical and humorist twist on it. And sure, to many the concept is weird, bizarre, odd, or just downright dumb, but it is good for laugh and does make some strong points. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage
remains some of his best work but it sure is an acquired taste, much like Zappa in general. Instrumentally, the album is astonishing, which was clearly one of Zappa’s many strengths. But it really has it all, not just the stunning guitar, but the humor and creativity as well. Joe’s Garage, it’s strange, it’s chaotic, it’s quirky and it’s genius, its Frank Zappa.