Frank Zappa – The Yellow Shark
Tuesday November 2nd, 1993. This day marks the release of Frank Zappa’s magnum opus – his terminal triumph. I use the word ‘terminal’ delicately here, given the context of which this very album is surrounded by, but for a man of Zappa’s stature, to have him feel like he’d accomplished something that he’d been striving towards his entire life, that should be more than enough to verify the weighty importance of The Yellow Shark: Frank Zappa’s final album. The sheer scale of Zappa’s works goes beyond even the measures of calling it intimidating. His discography alone is an intricate, sprawling, idiosyncratic maze that becomes a colossal nightmare just to work out where to start. Sitting on a massive 62 albums (over one hundred plus if you include the posthumous releases made from archived material), this is a man that explored every walk and style of music available; deconstructing these boxed and linear categories into esoteric compositions that are as perverted and humorous as they are challenging. Starting out in The Mothers of Invention, a psychedelic rock band from the 60s, he soon ventured out into the unknown reaches of sonic creativity on his own, and quickly began his mission to challenge everything popular music stood for. But for anyone who has done a little bit of research on the man, they will know that for all the good he did in the realms of rock music, his propensity for integrating classical orchestrations into his works was a blatantly obvious one.
The likes of Edgar Varese played a monumental role in the development of Zappa’s whole approach to writing music, and – whether I’m just putting words in the man’s mouth or not – he used rock music as an alternative to being just like his hero, Edgar. As his career furthered itself and his reputation developed, he got closer to the golden carrot he’d always sought after; implementing these grand ensembles into his albums and live shows. However, by the time 1993’s The Yellow Shark had come into fruition, he had finally fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams: to perform a full orchestral set that was the most faithful to his, typically, unattainable visions, and the best representation of his orchestral work yet. The unfortunate circumstance surrounding The Yellow Shark is that Zappa was dying of prostate cancer during its development. The Yellow Shark was recorded in 1992 at the Frankfurt Festival, and displays an extremely refined and mature Frank Zappa. The near 1 hour and 15-minute set hears a broad range of emotions and moods that galvanises Zappa’s scope as a writer – in spite of the illness that was consuming him. The comedic wrap that would normally surround Zappa’s compositions was stripped away here, in favour of a straight-and-raw narrative filled with beauty and foreboding. It’s an exhibition on his incredible range as a composer and there isn’t a second that goes by where it feels wasted or padded out.
When you look at Frank Zappa’s infamous, illustrious, and encyclopaedic music career, it’s nice to see that – despite the hideous and untimely death he succumbed to just a year after the album’s release – there’s at least some sort of closure to bookends his walk of life. The Yellow Shark allowed Zappa to flex all that he had learnt from nearly four decades worth of writing. The end result is a timeless accolade that I, as a fan, would happily put in my Top 5 Zappa albums of all time. But if nothing else, it’s an album Frank glowingly praised before his death, and there’s something pleasant in knowing that fact.
“Dog Breath Variations”