Frank Zappa - Them Or Us (1984)

The Closer You Are 3:02
In France 3:32
Ya Hozna 6:26
Sharleena 4:35
Sinister Footwear II 8:39
Truck Driver Divorce 9:05
Stevie's Spanking 5:23
Baby, Take Your Teeth Out 1:53
Marqueson's Chicken 7:36
Planet of My Dreams 1:40
Be In My Video 3:40
Them or Us 5:08
Frogs With Dirty Little Lips   2:46
Whippin' Post 7:37
Total Time: 70 min, 56 sec

After a string of orchestral albums, Frank finally returned to rock. And returned with yet another double album (released, complete, as a single CD). For the first track, he went all the way back to his doo-wop roots for The Closer You Are. Done completely straight, this track is a loving tribute to one of Zappa's favorite kinds of music. In France is next, a blues-based rocker with lyrics (sung by Johnny "Guitar" Watson) about the horrors of living in France. Possibly offensive to French people, but pretty funny to everyone else.

I'm guessing that Ya Hozna was Zappa's response to the wackos who claimed there were backwards-masked Satanic messages hidden in rock music. The track combines some forward musical parts with other backwards music, and a bunch of backwards lyrics. Nothing Satanic though - just the lyrics to a few previously released Zappa tracks played backwards. The title Ya Hozna comes from the fact that, played forward, it sounds like the vocals start with that phrase.

Sharleena is yet another version of the song that keeps making comebacks on Zappa's albums. This version is straight rock band, and is notable only for the fact that it marks the first time Dweezil played guitar on one of his father's albums. Sinister Footwear II is another section of the orchestral piece that was first heard on You Are What You Is, once again performed by rock band. With the release of this section, the last two movements were in circulation, but unfortunately the first part has never been officially released. A bootleg of a orchestral concert where the whole piece was performed is in circulation though.

Frank takes another stab at a country music parody with Truck Driver Divorce, however only the first couple minutes sound country - the rest is a vehicle for a lengthy FZ guitar solo. The lyrics make a nice conceptual continuity reference back to that truck full of string beans headed to Utah on the Ship Arriving To Late... album. Marqueson's Chicken and the title track also fall into the guitar showcase category (although "Marqueson" also has some nice composed sections). Stevie's Spanking is another guitar song, but this time the focus is on Steve Vai (the lyrics are about an encounter he had with a groupie and a hairbrush), so he gets one of the rare non-Zappa guitar solos to appear on an official album. Dweezil also gets another solo on this song.

Baby, Take Your Teeth Out is a catchy little novelty number about...well, you can guess from the title. Planet of my Dreams comes from the abandoned "Hunchentoot" rock opera, and features lyrics about how humans are destroying the Earth. Be In My Video is a parody inspired by the video for David Bowie's Let's Dance. It focuses on images from that video (and even includes backing vocals singing "Let's Dance"), but is actually a broader mocking of the "throw a bunch of cheezy effects, grimacing guitarists and dancing bimbos at 'em, and see if they'll buy the record" ideology behind MTV. No wonder they wouldn't play Frank's videos...

Frogs With Dirty Little Lips was cowritten by Frank's younger son Ahmet. It's a goofy but catchy little ditty about, well, frogs with dirty little lips. The original album ended here, but the CD release includes a smokin' live performance of Whippin' Post. Zappa began adding this cover song to live sets after an audience member in the mid 70s requested it but the band didn't know how to play it (see You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 2).

This was one of the first Zappa albums I bought, and at the time I loved it. The long guitar solos tried my patience a bit, but overall I thought the album was great. Maybe I burned myself out on it though, because it's not one that I reach for very often any more. Still, it's a good Zappa albums from the 80s. The more I listen to the 80s material, the less I agree with the folks that say Frank's 80s output stinks.

Album Cover

Image of the Them Or U album cover