With regard to poo-poo, snot, vomit, depersonalized sex, booze, zoot suits and the banality of mainstream rock, Frank Zappa, one of rock’s original angry young men, remains vehement. And Zoot Allures is his latest blow against the Empire. You do remember the Empire?
In other words, there are few moments of musical interest on this album, and nearly all are marred by a lyric text that is alternately mindless and condescending, always unfunny. We do not need to be reminded that for all the benefits of education we may still “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station,” nor are we necessarily “morons” because of such a twist of circumstances. Neither do we need the irredeemably offensive (for the wrong reasons) “Wonderful Wino,” an inventory of alcoholic ills already accounted for in Jethro Tull’s equally sensitive and poetic “Aqualung.” The fact that the vocal tracks on Zoot Allures stand completely front and center in the mix doesn’t help our appreciation; then again, perhaps it is all the better that we know exactly what crap is being peddled here.
As might be expected, the best cut is a blues instrumental (recorded live in Japan), “Black Napkins,” in which Zappa on guitar leads a simple and melodic blues run through some extremely subtle and uncharacteristically lyrical changes. Similarly, both “The Torture Never Stops,” another modified blues, and “Zoot Allures,” a musically bittersweet cut reminiscent of “Peaches En Regalia” (the grandly haunting instrumental from Zappa’s finest album, Hot Rats), promise a new and moodier direction for Zappa — but again, in both, the lyrics detract.