Frank zappa - Läther - 1996


As any work of Zappa, this enormous work –both in quality and duration- transcends the frontiers of Progressive Rock -in its more orthodox and archetypal meaning-, surpassing the stylistic and conceptual narrowness of the symphonic and it elevating rock to unsurpassable heights, only reserved to few geniuses.

It is difficult to find artists that have impelled the progress of rock as a musical expression in the second half of the XX century more than Frank Zappa. The group of musicians that have evolved the style, the concept, the theme, the compositional and interpretative technique, are few... making rock an artistic, experimental, innovative manifestation and even a scientific and revolutionary one. Some other indispensable names could be Brian Eno, Can, Holger Czukay, Christian Vander, Syd Barret, Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen, Soft Machine, Henry Cow, Fred Frith, Peter Hammill, Captain Beefheart, Todd Rundgren, Faust, Kraftwerk, Robert Fripp, Miles Davis, etc.

However, there are many sectarian lists elaborated by the fans of the genre in which Zappa has a very limited and relative presence and, also, full of nuances, buts, excuses, exceptions, conditions..., such as "the style of Zappa can not be considered as «typically progressive", "maybe just some songs, a few albums… and it is risky to categorize his music as progressive, because –as they say - he doesn't fit in the general line marked by the sound of the recognized masters such as Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, ELP, Jethro Tull, Rush, Marillion, King Crimson, Camel... or the long list of imitators that with discharges of metal or soft syrupy ballads a la AOR or of a symphonic chord -with mellotron included – repeated endlessly, delight many followers today, although devaluating the name of this magnificent genre, sinking into continuous reiteration and into major boredom. In definitive, the style of Zappa is not adjusted easily or with any comfort to the lazy ears of many listeners, not friends of risk, derivations and experiments. And it is that this brilliant musician, as Diego Manrique’s article in the newspaper El País on his obituary three days after his death (December 7th 1993 he was, and will continue to be through his music a "whip of lazy minds".


"Läther" is in fact an opportunity for opening minds to diversity, freedom, width of aims, an experimentation exercise for the listener as a joyful personal secret. It is maybe the album of Zappa that better represents that conception, present in all his music, as its almost three hours of duration offer a delicious and brilliant miscellany of styles while giving a vision of a coherent, rigorous, astonishing group.

This exceptional work, published by Rykodisc in 1996 as a triple CD, picks up the original conceived by Frank Zappa in 1977 -with songs from the 1974-77 period- as a quadruple album, which he gave to Warner, a label with which he had signed a contract for the release of four albums. This implied in fact the end of the contract, as Zappa understood. Warner opposed to publish the quadruple album and decided to publish the whole material in four separate LPs that would be published later on in a gradual way. In this way he released "Zappa in New York" (1978), "Studio Tan" (1978), "Sleep Dirt" (1979) and "Orchestal Favorites" (1979), arranged and finally published without the consent of Zappa and with an artwork unauthorised by the artist. Given the negative of the company, Frank Zappa decided to broadcast in December 1977 from an alternative radio station -Pasadena´s KROQ Radio Station - the complete work, warning all the fans previously so they were prepared to record it. And so he did. The origin of the problem seems to be in that in a first moment Zappa presented separately "Zappa in New York", but Warner decided to eliminate the song "Punky´s Whips", allusive to a real musician -Punky Meadows - that had a contract with the same producer, and to change the cover and the structure of the songs presented by Zappa. This motivated the musician's irritation, who decided, then, to liquidate the contract as soon as possible with the company, giving the four albums once and for all.

The wide range of styles included in "Läther" is difficult to enumerate, but making a vastly simplifying effort, that leaves aside many excellent pieces, in this great work we can find songs in the purest 70’s rock’n roll style (a la Rolling, as a reference), frequently in concert, as "Broken Hearts are for Asholes", "The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit", "Tities´n beer". Always treating «alternative", «different", «not very average" themes, with lyrics loaded with irony and social critical mordant, even religious and ideological. Concrete and atonal orchestral pieces of music that remind from the compositions of his adored Varese and are part of the famous "sandwiches" of the master, such as "Naval Aviation In Art", "Revenge of the Knick Knack People" or "Pedro´s Dowry". Also, authentic epic poems narrated as a cartoon soundscore, such as "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" or Opera Rock -although with a jazzy inspiration - ("Punky´s Whips"), masterful samples of fusion of contemporary classical music and Jazz such as "Revised Music for Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra" or with rock ("Duke of Orchestral Prunes"), sessions of Jazz with potent brass sections as "The Purple Lagoon", "Läther" or "The Black Page" and mainly unclassifiable compositions that constitute delicious collages of diverse styles: Soundtrack, classic and avant garde Jazz, Classic Music, Hard Rock, psychedelic and acid rock and even Bosa Nova, such as "Re-gyptian Strut", "RDNZL", "Spider of Destiny", "Filthy Habits" or the exceptional and indispensable "The Ocean is the ultimate Solution".

In conclusion, there are very few comparisons possible, only Frank Zappa's own work or, why not, music as a global artistic expression, in all its greatness and diversity, along all its history; the legacy that some geniuses have left us for enjoyment and personal and collective reflection.

The list of musicians that accompanied Zappa in "Läther" is also wide and diverse. They can range from exceptional Jazzmen like the Brecker brothers -Michael and Randy -, Tom Malone, Lou Marini, until leading heads of British prog -Eddie Jobson-, exceptional drummers linked to the long discography of Zappa as Chester Thompson, Terry Bozzio and Paul Humphrey -the first two well known by all progressive fans -, percussion masters as Dave Samuels and the brilliant Ruth Underwood, musicians of extraordinary versatility in different musical lands such as Patrick O´Hearn, well-known for his ambient work and the link to the label/project Private Music of Peter Baumann, but also as bass and keyboard player for the Gothic postpunk group Missing Persons, of which Terry Bozzio was also a member. Finally, also members of the successive formations of the band of Zappa, as George Duke (big words), Roy Estrada (of the mythical first formation of Mothers of Invention), Bruce and Tom Fowler (potent brass section of "Apostrophe", "Overnite Sensation", "One Size Fits All..."), Dave Parlato and James Bird Legs Youman (Excellent Bassists during this golden era), etc.


In definitive, it is a very significant, essential part of the musical inheritance that Zappa has donated us. His desire to publish "Läther" like a unique and inseparable work have been carried out, although regrettably he could not do see it with his own eyes. Almost three years before Rykodisk offered us the enormous gift of "Läther", Zappa died from a prostate cancer when he was 52 year-old, only 17 days before his 53rd birthday.

This posthumous work is indispensable for all lovers of his music, for all fans of Progressive Rock, for those that see in music a form of universal expression. It is an invitation to open the mind, to break barriers, to experience. Take advantage of it.

author - date - rating - label

Juan Sánchez - May 2000 -   - RykoDisc