Frank Zappa Andy Doherty - Essay

Andy Doherty

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Zappa in New York sounds as much like formula work as anything this character has ever foisted upon his public….

At its most pedestrian, this album offers "Titties and Beer," yet another Zappa attempt to secure the affections of the sophomores in the audience by reviving the crudest elements of vaudeville. The song centers on a locker-room dialogue between Zappa and the Devil …, who has eaten Frank's girl and beer. Sound familiar? It should—the routine aims for the same sleazy places Flo and Eddie (to cite the obvious example) explored years ago…. Being predictable is bad enough; "Titties and Beer" is that and mild, a far greater sin.

"The Illinois Enema Bandit" is a considerable improvement, owing in large part to a successful integration of yuks and riffs. There are a number of structural twists to the piece…. Still, the song was inevitable; eventually Zappa had to write a song about enemas, there only being a finite number of ways to be gross and disgusting.

Instrumental passages, while hardly groundbreaking, present the brightest moments on Zappa in New York….

In the end, however, I get the unsettling sensation of having been there before. Zappa in New York is this year's model of an old show: Buy your ticket and you're guaranteed lots of sex jokes frothed by 20 minutes of guitar. The problem with old shows, particularly popular old shows, is that they begin to telegraph their punch lines long before the remainder of the routines are played out. "Titties and Beer" is extreme but the problem pops up elsewhere…. Zappa became famous/infamous for his outlandishness and unpredictability, but the latter quality is hiding on this album, and the former is strained.

Andy Doherty, "Plastic Man," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1978 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June, 1978, p. 75.