Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Album | 4 May 1991


"The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life" is Frank Zappa's 40th or so LP and is a superb way for newcomers to acquaint themselves with his unique talent. Recorded on his 1988 world tour, the title is a testament to the fact that the group self-destructed onstage a few days into the American leg. Pick any one of these 28 tracks and you'll quickly realise why.

Half of Zappa's dozen backing musicians play brass instruments and the likes of "Zoot Allures" and "Cosmik Debris" shift from avant-garde jazz scrambles to cleverly arranged big band blasts with the snap of a finger. "Let's Move To Cleveland" is pure circus music and this version of "Who Needs The Peace Corps?" must have gone down well in Rio. There is still plenty of room for Zappa to weave psychedelic blues guitar lines and twist whatever happens to be in his head at the time into lyrics, though. Many of the phrases have little meaning, but his satirical political comments and vicious digs at disgraced TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart are hilariously incisive.

Numerous covers sit alongside the original material and each is turned into a typical Zappa hurly-burly, Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" becoming a reggae tune and Ravel's "Bolero" a free-for-all of parps and squeaks. There also snatches of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and the theme music to "Bonanza". "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "Purple Haze" get in there too. The climax of the LP is a 10-minute rendition of "Stairway To Heaven", the Led Zep classic, which suddenly melts into "If You Go Down To The Woods Today" towards the end.

The irreverence and confidence of "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life” is a joy to hear. Kramer and The Orb are challenging hard but Frank Zappa remains the King of the Oddballs.

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