Frank Zappa - The Man From Utopia (1983)

Cocaine Decisions 3:53
SEX 3:43
Tink Walks Amok 3:38
The Radio is Broken 5:51
We Are Not Alone 3:18
The Dangerous Kitchen 2:51
The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou (medley)   3:22
Stick Together 3:18
The Jazz Discharge Party Hats 4:28
Luigi & the Wise Guys 3:24
Moggio 2:35
 
Total Time: 40 min, 17 sec

This is an album that divides Zappa fans. Many can't stand it and think it's his worst disc, while a small minority love the album and staunchly defend it. Sort of like Zappa's version of Drama (the album created by a hybrid cross of Yes and the Buggles - it was put out under the Yes name, and many of that band's fans hate it, while others love it). Man From Utopia is also like Zoot Allures, in that it contains both some of FZ's best songs, and some of his worst.

The disc opens with Cocaine Decisions, a bluesy rock song (with the blues feeling coming largely from an intermittent harmonica line). The lyrics are about how many of the top movers and shakers in the world make their important decisions while their brains are clouded with cocaine. I particularly like Zappa's theory that this is why Hollywood keeps turning out so much "expensive ugliness".

The second song tops many fans' lists (mine included) as potentially the most worthless song in the Zappa catalog. As the title implies, the song is about SEX, full of suggestive lines and lame little clichés. It might be tolerable if the music wasn't so weak and instantly forgettable. I don't know what possessed Frank to record and release a song like this.

Tink Walks Amok is a nice little instrumental which prominently features Arthur "Tink" Barrow's bass playing. It's tasteful and energetic, but not overly flashy, thus "walks" amok rather than runs. The Radio Is Broken is a track that I originally didn't like because of the purposefully annoying vocals, but after watching a bunch of bad old sci-fi movies on Mystery Science Theater, this song makes a lot more sense to me. It sums up all the lame plots and clichés that showed up in every sci-fi movie of the 50s, even naming a lot of the stars of those movies. It's a pretty funny song if you've ever sat through a few of those movies.

We Are not Alone is one of the most joyful sounding songs of Frank's career. A bouncy little instrumental, it only has two main melodies that it alternates and repeats ad nauseam, but both themes are so catchy that the song works. And at just over three minutes, the song doesn't overstay its welcome. This song also gets my nomination for "best use of a saxophone". I've got to thank Ed Palermo's big band for making me apprecate this song - somehow it had always slipped under my radar (although I find that hard to believe now) until I heard them preform a great cover version of it.

The Dangerous Kitchen and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats are basically spoken word tracks. The first is a poem about how no one wants to clean a dirty kitchen. When performed live, the band would improvise different backgrounds while Zappa read the poem. The second song was a similar concept, with Frank relating a story about a few bandmembers and their adventures with a few college girls. The impressive thing about this one is Steve Vai's guitar line - he took a recording of Frank's vocals, transcribed the pitches then doubled them exactly on guitar. My favorite bit occurs at 1:11 into the track when Vai plays three notes to simulate a little chuckle of Frank's.

The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou is a combination of two oldies that I guess Frank must have liked. Stick Together is yet another union-bashing song. Luigi & the Wise Guys is one of the reasons some people hate this album, but I like it. It's a really stupid little piece with a ton of layered falsetto vocals singing lyrics about dorks and butt rashes. What can I say, it cracks me up. Since this was the last Zappa album I bought (due to its reputation), and since I had already heard live versions of Moggio, Luigi was the last brand-new Zappa song I heard. What a way to finish.

The album ends with another fantastic instrumental - Moggio. This is a beautifully flowing piece with the notes flying by at a rapid clip. The xylophone (or whatever that tuned percussion instrument is) is particularly impressive. Almost the opposite of We Are Not Alone, this song doesn't repeat itself as much, instead wandering all over the place and ending much too soon.

About the album cover - it depicts a concert that the band played in Italy. After being assaulted by insects the whole show, the band had to perform while a riot broke out between concertgoers and police. One of the Stage albums has a recording from this concert, and you can actually hear tear gas canisters being fired into the crowd. The cover of Man From Utopia represents this show, although I have no idea why Frank is depicted as an overly muscled robot.

[I got an email from someone named Size Mick who explained that the muscle-bound look is just the cover artist's general style, and who also provided a URL for the artist's web site, in case you want to check out more of his work.]

All in all, I'm not sure this album deserves the horrible reputation it has. There are a few great tracks on here, in fact I think I'm gonna go back and listen to "Tink", "We Are", "Luigi" and Moggio again right now. On the other hand, there are a bunch of tracks I'm gonna skip. So, this maybe isn't the best album but it's worth picking up eventually.

Album Cover

Image of the Man From Utopia album cover