Frank Zappa - Congress Shall Make No Law... (recorded 1985, released 2010)

Congress Shall Make No Law 32:45
Perhaps in Maryland 10:54
thou shalt have no other gods...   2:55
thou shalt not make unto thee...   2:30
thou shalt not take the name...   2:26
thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath...   2:04
thou shalt honor thy father...   2:20
thou shalt not kill   2:06
thou shalt not commit adultery   0:55
thou shalt not steal   0:39
thou shalt not bear false witness...   1:47
thou shalt not covet the house of...   1:12
Reagan at Bitburg some more   1:09
Total Time:    63:48

This is probably the least essential CD that's ever been released under Zappa's name. For those who don't know the story, back in 1985 a group of wives of U.S. senators decided that they'd had enough of dirty rock lyrics (if I remember right, one of them caught their daughter listening to a Prince song about a girl masturbating). They formed a group called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and tried to use their husbands' influence to strong-arm the government and the record industry into putting an "X" sticker on albums with sexual content, a "D/A" on albums with references to drugs or alcohol, a "V" on albums with violent lyrics and (this is my personal favorite) an "O" on "occult" albums. Hmm, wonder who gets to decide what's "occult". The first definition I found via a Google search is "Of, relating to, or dealing with supernatural influences, agencies, or phenomena." So that would mean all those Christian Rock albums of the 80s would have gotten the "O" sticker, right? I'm betting that's not what the PMRC had in mind.

To further underline the hypocrisy of it all, the PMRC made it clear that they only wanted stickers on rock albums. Country albums were fine, despite their lyrics about drinking, killing and adultery sung by people who, as Frank pointed out, "had been to prison and were proud of it". Hmmm, does The Devil Went Down to Georgia get that "O" sticker?

Well, Zappa was understandably upset about all this. Especially since his albums, with their frequently sexually-oriented lyrics, would probably be a prime target. So when hearings were held in Washington on the subject, Frank cut his hair, put on his best suit and testified. The initial result was the Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention album, and its brilliant track Porn Wars.

After testifying in DC, Frank was called upon to make a statement before the Maryland state legislature, who were considering passing a law to officially make it a crime to sell a stickered album to a minor. Two and a half decades later, a ceremony was held to unveil a bust of FZ in his home town of Baltimore. Gail decided to use the occasion to release this CD, which documents Frank's fight against censorship in Washington and Maryland.

So why is this the least essential CD in Zappa's catalog? First off, because most of the recordings on it are already widely available as part of the public domain, and most of the best quotes were already used on Meets the Mothers. So where Gail gets off putting the full thing on a CD and charging $18 for it is beyond me. So why did I buy it? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. An idiot and a Zappa completist.

Another reason this disc is inessential is because it contains very little actual Zappa music. It's mostly just talking. The final track is about a minute's worth of synclavier music, which sounds like an alternate version of something from Civilization Phase III - I'm guessing it's probably Reagan at Bitburg, but I haven't compared the two albums yet to make sure. Other than that, the only music is a few really tiny (like 1 or 2 seconds long) synclavier clips between tracks.

As you might guess from the titles and track lengths, the first song is the full Washington testimony, and the second is the Maryland testimony. The remaining tracks (which bear the full text of the 10 commandments as their titles - I just didn't feel like typing all that out) are various short sound bites of Zappa on various interview shows talking about his fight against the PMRC.

The liner notes are actually pretty interesting. There's a thick booklet that reprints letters Zappa sent out to his fans on the subject, a four page letter he wrote to President Reagan about it, the full text of his written statement to Congress (the spoken version on the album trims a little of it out for time), promotional materials of the PMRC and related groups, newspaper clippings, etc. It takes longer to read the booklet that it does to listen to the CD.

A couple final thoughts: The belch-speaking between and during some of the tracks (credited as "Burp Art" performed by one Jade Teta) is mildly funny the first couple times it happens but gets really annoying as the album progresses, especially since it's mixed TWICE AS LOUD as Zappa's speaking voice. During the last third of the disc I kept finding myself turning the volume down to avoid the obnoxious belches and then missing what Frank was saying. I'm guessing they were put in there to deflect criticism of the album being too heavy-handed and pretentious, but it just detracts from the message, IMHO.

And one last thing I wonder about: what's with the attacks on Live Aid? I know it happened around the same time (Summer of 1985), but in the liner notes Frank implies that the album ratings would force some "unscrupulous" musicians to "protect their careers" by shooting "the next Let's Go Pretend To Feed Somebody video." They also have the annoying belching guy "sing" part of "We Are the World" on the CD. How did Live Aid, which was a worthy cause and helped save lots of lives, get mixed up with the PMRC in the Zappas' minds? Might the fact that Frank wasn't invited to perform at Live Aid have something to do with it?

Album Cover

Image of the Congress Shall Make No Law album cover