|I Don't Even Care||4:39|
|One Man, One Vote||2:35|
|Little Beige Sambo||3:02|
|Aerobics In Bondage||3:16|
|We're Turning Again||4:55|
|What's New in Baltimore?||5:20|
|Total Time: 47 min, 10 sec|
In the mid-80s, a bunch of Washington wives (led by Tipper Gore) got it in their heads that all the evils of the world were being caused by children listening to dirty, dirty rock and roll music. What was their solution? Should parents actually pay attention to what their kids are listening to? Hell no, they should just make the music industry slap a big warning label on anything that might potentially be "dangerous". Sure, you're stigmatizing the artists, but that's a small price to pay so that parents don't actually have to listen to that crap.
Oh, and it turns out the whole thing was just a smokescreen put up to draw public attention away from the fact that the recording industry was about to push through an unfair "blank tax tape" to penalize all music consumers because of the piracy of a few. Guess what - it worked on all fronts - the tax got passed, the cost of blank tapes went up (which means every time you buy a blank tape, you're already paying a fine that assumes you're going to use it to pirate something, so feel free to do so), and record labeling became common practice. Did anything good come out of all this? Fortunately yes, we got a good Zappa album from the whole ordeal.
Frank, being Frank, couldn't just sit back and watch it all happen, so he (and several other rock musicians) went to Washington DC for the hearings that would determine whether laws would be drawn up to censor "indecent" music. That trip influenced the majority of Frank's next album, Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, and spawned the excellent synclavier and tape collage piece Porn Wars.
The album opens with I Don't Even Care, a strange sentiment from a man who obviously did care. It features a scratchy guitar line and backing vocalists repeating "IIIIII don't even caaaare!", while Johnny "Guitar" Watson does a rambling and disjointed rap over top about reasons why he doesn't care. Some fans don't care for this one, probably because of the sheer repetition, but I've found that howling along with the backing vocals while driving home from work can be quite therapeutic.
One Man One Vote, Little Beige Sambo, Aerobics in Bondage and H. R. 2911 are all synclavier pieces. You can hear the progress Zappa was making with the instrument in the difference between these pieces and the ones on The Perfect Stranger and especially Francesco Zappa. These tracks are beginning to get into the "humanly impossible to play" range, with rapid-fire notes and complex, interweaving parts. One Man, One Vote is that rarest of music - an avant garde piece that actually has a steady beat and is kind of catchy. That track and the opener weren't originally on the U.S. release of the album - for the European release Zappa replaced Porn Wars with those songs, figuring that no one outside the U.S. would care about our political battles. Fortunately, for the CD release all the songs from both versions of the album were included, and the bonus track H.R. 2911 (named after the House Resolution that created the blank tape tax) was added.
We're Turning Again is a little out of place on this album, but I guess Frank had it lying around and wanted to use it. It's a fairly standard rock song with lyrics mocking the aging baby boomers who live in the past and only listen to music from the 60s. Alien Orifice is a great, avant rock band instrumental. What's New in Baltimore is one of Frank's "prettier" rock band songs, with a beautiful guitar line and nice piano parts. This version is instrumental, but in live versions the band sings the title along with the "chorus". Excellent live versions of both those songs exist in the Stage series. Yo Cats is a sarcastic lounge jazz tune with lyrics that make fun of session musicians who worry more about increasing their pay than about making good music.
The real masterpiece of the album though is Porn Wars. This twelve minute track is a collision of synclavier and rock music with sound clips from the censorship hearings. We get to hear the politicians and their wives make asses of themselves. We get to hear one call Zappa "boorish" for insisting on free speech, and another elderly Senator joke about whether he would make a good rock star. They use terms like "porn rock" and "outrageous filth", and talk about changing the constitution to make it legal to ban music that they don't approve of. Frank is merciless, playing the stupidest sounding clips over and over - he really does a number on them. This track is brilliant from every perspective - a great example of musique concrète, a great example of musical propaganda, and just some of the most sinister sounds you'll ever hear. In fact, the backing synclavier track is so good that Zappa decided to include it on its own as H.R. 2911. It's also interesting to note that Porn Wars includes more of the dialog recorded for Lumpy Gravy (it's amazing how that one recording session created a thread that runs the whole way through the Zappa catalog). And as if all that weren't enough, we get another earful from the Thing-Fish.
In summary, I'd say that this is one of the best and most important Zappa albums of the 80s. It includes all the elements that made Frank famous - uncompromising music, social commentary, humor, guitar solos - and adds the complexity of the synclavier. Yet for some reason this album seems to get overlooked, even by me sometimes. I'll have to pull it out and listen to it more often.