Frank Zappa - Broadway the Hard Way (1989)

Elvis Has Just Left the Building 2:24
Planet of the Baritone Women 2:48
Any Kind of Pain 5:42
Dickie's Such an Asshole 5:45
When the Lie's So Big 3:38
Rhymin' Man 3:50
Promiscuous 2:02
The Untouchables 2:26
Why Don't You Like Me? 2:57
Bacon Fat 1:29
Stolen Moments 2:58
Murder By Numbers 5:37
Jezebel Boy 2:27
Outside Now 7:49
Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel   6:40
What Kind of Girl? 3:16
Jesus Think You're a Jerk 9:15
 
Total Time: 71 min, 6 sec

The first of three live albums from the Zappa's last tour in 1988, this album collects the new songs and political material written for the tour (after all, '88 was an election year - Frank even ran voter registration drives at his shows in the US). The lyrical barbs are mostly aimed at republicans, although Jesse Jackson gets his in Rhymin' Man, and the uselessness of the democrats is mentioned in Hot Plate Heaven.

The disc opens with a song about Elvis, with lines like "so what if he looks like a warthog in heat? He knows we all love him, we'll just watch him eat". This was probably brought on by the wave of Elvis nostalgia that occurred in the 80s, with people even claiming that he had faked his own death and was showing up in convenience stores across the land. Planet of the Baritone Women seems to be a jab at feminists (although it's hard to tell), while Any Kind of Pain mocks bimbos who would rather look good than feel good. The latter song includes a nice guitar solo, but my favorite bit of it is when the "Maybe I could make a good rock star" quote from Porn Wars inexplicably makes a quick (and heavily distorted) appearance around the 1:22 mark. Crack me up every time.

The political material starts with a resurrected Dickie's Such an Asshole, although I'm not sure why Zappa decided to mock a long-gone president when he had so much fresh material to work with. When the Lie's So Big "brings the republican party up to date" by explaining how they hide behind Jesus and the flag so that no one will notice all their lies and evil deeds.

As mentioned above, Rhymin' Man is about Jesse Jackson, and his contrived image and lack of substance. Promiscuous is, believe it or not, Zappa's attempt at a rap song. The lyrics take the republicans in general, and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in particular, to task over their poor handling of the AIDS epidemic. The Untouchables is the theme song to the TV show, with Ike Willis doing a monologue over top about the military mentality of the Reagan administration, which made "heroes" out of criminals like Oliver North.

Why Don't You Like Me? takes a break from politics to make fun of Michael Jackson - "He's oxygenated, his nose is deflated, and he thinks he looks good to you!" The music to the song is a modified version of Tell Me You Love Me. After that the album goes instrumental for a bit, with nice covers of the big-band jazz songs Bacon Fat and Stolen Moments. These songs really show off the '88 band's range, with the horn section and percussion filling out the sound of the standard rock band bass/drums/keys/guitar. The second song gets an unexpected surprise when Sting comes on stage and recites the lyrics to Murder By Numbers over the jazz music. He introduces the song by mentioning that Jerry Falwell said it was written by Satan. Sting disagrees - "I wrote the fucking song!".

The next track is a little baffling. It's come up on the Zappa newsgroup a couple times (I asked about it last time I went through all of Frank's albums), but no one seems to know what Jezebel Boy is supposed to be about. The lyrics describe a young male prostitute meeting a white-haired, distinguished-looking Wilshire District gentleman named Ralph to perform oral sex on him. No one seems to know who Ralph is supposed to be, or if this song is based on an actual event. In March of 2005, I got an email from someone named GP who gave me a hyperlink to an old 60s "educational" film called Boys Beware, which warns children to avoid "homosexuals" (the movie assumes that "homosexual" and "child molester" are interchangeable terms). The molester in the movie is named Ralph - could this be what Zappa was referring to? Who knows.

Moving on, we get another version of Outside Now. This version is OK, but seems very out of place and rather unnecessary. Hot Plate Heaven... was new to US audiences (see the Does Humor Belong in Music review for more info), and describes the way that both political parties couldn't care less about poor people. The music is very catchy, with nice use of the horn section.

What Kind of Girl? is a remake of the Flo and Eddie groupie song, brought back on short notice to make fun of Jimmy Swaggart, who had recently been caught in a Texas motel with a hooker. The closing track, Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk, also deals with religion, and may be Frank's best song on the subject. It basically points out how hypocritical many religious people are - they preach kindness and love, but then carry guns and, in extreme cases, lynch "colored" people and bomb abortion clinics. My favorite lyrics are "If you ain't born-again, they wanna mess you up. Screamin' 'No abortion, no-siree! Life's too precious, can't you see?'". The end of the song is unusual for Zappa - he showed a little-seen sentimental side, implied that he believed in Jesus, and worried that people may still not have gotten the message he'd been sending all his life: "And if you don't know by now, the truth of what I'm tellin' you, then surely I have failed somehow. And Jesus will think I'm a jerk, just like you. If you let those TV preachers make a monkey out of you, Jesus will think you're a jerk, and it will be true!"

As you can probably tell from my review, the focus of the album is more on the lyrics than the music, possibly more so than on any other Zappa album. The music is still impressive though - it's just that the messages in the lyrics get most of the attention. This album certainly isn't for everyone - born-again Christians and republicans aren't likely to get much enjoyment out of this one. Cynical, apolitical atheists like myself should love it though. ;-)

Album Cover

Image of the Broadway the Hard Way album cover