Frank Zappa
Thing-Fish


3.5
great

Review

by USER (28 Reviews)
November 13th, 2014 | 40 replies


Release Date: 1984 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "This is symbolism, Harry! Really deep, intense, thought-provoking Broadway symbolism! This isn't 'Dream Girls', Harry! This is the way it really is . . ."

Subsequent to 1984’s Them or Us, it was evident that Frank Zappa’s creativity was getting rusty. In the same year, Zappa dropped the prog act once and for all, moving to a new frontier: music theater. Now, this wasn’t the first time Zappa flirted with the concept of an audio play: 1979’s Joe’s Garage masterfully slammed censorship with a colorful array of silly characters and scenarios. This time, however, more risqué topics would be facetiously played with on Thing-Fish: racism, the women’s rights movement, homosexuality, and AIDS. Due to its 1984 release, these topics were not only incredibly controversial, but would make your stereotypical middle-class, suburban white family cringe in disgust as they normally pretended these issues didn't exist.

While the aforementioned qualities imply greatness, Thing-Fish is riddled with musical flaws. First of all, eight out of the twenty-two tracks are recycled Zappa tunes, six of which steal lyrics directly. Not only is this undeniably lazy in itself, but it pales in comparison to the effort displayed on Joe’s Garage’s soundtrack. As for the fourteen tracks with original music, they’re merely flat background drab, with “He’s So Gay” and “Wistful Wit a Fist-Full” being rare exceptions. What’s also potentially disappointing to Zappa fans is that, with the exception of some samples, Zappa’s voice is absent. For these reasons, to fully enjoy Thing-Fish you shouldn't consider it an LP, but rather a satirical audio play. By focusing on the plot, characters, and humor more than the music, said music is appropriately seen as only the story's background aid.

As for the story: it’s reminiscent of comedic gold. An evil prince creates a parody of the AIDs virus in an attempt to wipe out both the African race and homosexuals. The African survivors of this virus, known as the Mammy Nuns, become deformed potato shaped monsters with strange duck lips. Their leader, Thing-Fish, serves as the narrator as he spews sentences that abuse the English language such as “'Membuh, we's on Broadway! Mutha***er be buyin' dem tickets wants a lil' heart, a lil' soul . . . 'n some titty too, ef dey can git it, so, les' get y'all in positium heah, 'n get dis silly business over wit! Y'all's takin' too goddam long to grow up in Ermerica!” Thing-Fish’s character is a criticism of blackface actors and their caricatures of uneducated African American people in media. As a juxtaposition to this caricature, a privileged white couple from Long Island, consisting of Harry, an overeducated closeted homosexual, and Rhonda, a domineering feminist with a severe case of misandry become the musical’s protagonists. Also, absurd lyrics such as: “it probably wasn't real piss. . . only 'theater piss'” and “These are real Goddamn chains, Harry, and they’re not gonna come off with Woolite!” work slapstick into the mix. All of the characters within the musical are self aware that this is a musical and often break the fourth wall. By creating four of the most ridiculous and politically incorrect, yet socially relevant characters, Zappa can keeps the audience laughing and simultaneously thinking about the social issues that plagued the 1980s.

Now, the plot has it’s weak points, though they are few and brief. For instance, while the introduction of Harry-As-A-Boy and Artificial Rhonda do help further develop the privileged white couple, the inclusion of their offspring, The Crab-Grass Baby, is irrelevant and distracts from the plot, even if it is rather funny. Another flaw is the underdevelopment of the “Ancient an' re-lij-er-mus” character Brown Moses, who’s function is to religiously oppose homosexuality. However, he has so few lines and his ideas are so poorly expressed that if he were to be completely written out of the musical, the plot would be almost exactly the same. Also, Dale Bozzio’s portrayal of Rhonda has some questionable acting, but because Thing-Fish, Harry, and The Evil Prince are well acted, it doesn’t distract too much from the plot. These flaws are for the most part overshadowed due to the fact that The Crab-Grass Baby and Brown Moses are only minor characters and that nearly everyone except for Dale Bozzio have spot on acting.

With that said, nearly every single song - or should I say “scene” - on Thing-Fish should have you laughing occasionally. Weak musical production keeps it far from perfection, but a thought-provoking and socially relevant satirical plot and cast allow Thing-Fish to be entertaining from start to finish. In a way, this is surprisingly more accessible to non-Zappa fans since they don’t already have expectations going in. So, to reiterate: don’t listen to this as if it’s an LP, listen to it as if it’s a satirical audio play and you’ll probably absolutely love it... hopefully.

Cast:
Ike Willis - Thing-Fish
Terry Bozzio - Harry
Dale Bozzio - Rhonda
Napoleon Murphy Brock - The Evil Prince
Bob Harris - Harry-As-A-Boy
Johnny "Guitar" Watson - Brown Moses



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user ratings (82)
2.6
average

Comments:Add a Comment 
ArsMoriendi
November 13th 2014


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It's more of a Musical than a Rock Opera, so listen to it for the lols. You honestly don't even

need to like Zappa in the slightest to enjoy this for it's comedy value.

Digging: Goat - Commune

IntriguingSergei
November 13th 2014


242 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hey, good review! I clicked 'yes' at the bottom



"Now, the plot has it’s weak points, though they are few and brief. For instance, while the introduction of Harry-As-A-Boy and Artificial Rhonda do help further develop the privileged white couple, the inclusion of their offspring, The Crab-Grass Baby, is irrelevant and distracts from the plot, even if it is rather funny."



I respectfully disagree - surely the whole point of the plot is to meander and circumambulate the parameters of established logic, so what you describe as 'irrelevant' actually augments its narrative power.

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Emeritus
November 13th 2014


6747 Comments


nice review, the first 2 and last paragraphs are especially well written ;]

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
November 13th 2014


20248 Comments


Solid review, dude

Digging: Nero di Marte - Immoto

ArsMoriendi
November 13th 2014


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

To whoever neg'd my review: can you please explain why? I thought this was my best one yet

(thanks to JohnnyOnTheSpot of course.)

Negator
November 13th 2014


1583 Comments


this looks dope

eddie95
November 13th 2014


704 Comments


People who neg without telling why are so stupid.

Great review, pos'd

SharkTooth
November 14th 2014


14139 Comments


People who neg without telling why are so stupid[2]
Yeah this review is actually quite good tbh

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
November 14th 2014


19271 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

nice review



album is Zappa's absolute worst without a doubt though

ArsMoriendi
November 14th 2014


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"Zappa's absolute worst without a doubt though"



Musically? it's flat as hell, but like I said as an audio play it's wonderful.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
November 14th 2014


19271 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

yeah, as background noise it's pretty decent





the acting is garbage for real tho

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
November 14th 2014


15971 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review.



Good to see some more Zappa stuff getting reviewed.



I've never checked this out, think I'll give it a spin.

Digging: Leeched - To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse

ArsMoriendi
November 14th 2014


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@Gonzo: Tell me how you like it if you do check it out!

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
November 15th 2014


15971 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

For sure, man.

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ever check it? :P

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
September 11th 2016


15971 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nearly two years on and I never got chance haha!

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
September 11th 2016


15971 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Will get on it next time I'm on my computer.



That cover though.

smaugman
September 11th 2016


5092 Comments


i only listened to that harry song but wtf was that

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


28224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is hands down his most offensive album and it's all about AIDs and how it affected both the black and gay populations, with Ike Willis (Joe from Joe's Garge) as a narrator who is stereotypically... actually read the review it sums it up much better.



This is his most offensive work though, by far...

smaugman
September 11th 2016


5092 Comments


exit-able



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