Frank Zappa

Thing-Fish

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Of all of Frank Zappa's discography, Thing-Fish must be his most controversial, misunderstood, overlooked album. Obviously, it is not a masterpiece, but reducing it to a compilation album with a racist plot distorts the reality. First released as a three-LP set (and reissued on two CDs), this album is the "original cast recording" of a never-produced Broadway show. Working-class joes have been mutated into potato-headed, duck-mouthed creatures by a government experiment gone wrong. They put up a Broadway musical in which reality and fiction become one for two members of the audience. The main character, Thing-Fish, is played by Ike Willis. His thick caricatured Negro accent is directly taken from Amos 'n' Andy's King Fish character. Zappa's intention was not to mock African Americans, but to ridicule the way they are depicted on Broadway, mainly a white male-dominated milieu. Harry and Rhonda, the two audience members drawn into the story by force, are played by Terry Bozzio and Dale Bozzio. Harry will realize he is gay, Rhonda will turn into a briefcase fetishist. Zappa exaggerates the yuppie trends of the mid-'80s (Harry is gay for "career purposes"; Rhonda embodies the ultra-feminist) and slips into the plot concerns about the spread of AIDS being the result of governmental scientific experiments. It's crazy, offensive, barely holding together, but it sure is entertaining. To accommodate the plot, Zappa wrote a couple of new songs and re-recorded a handful of tracks from Zoot Allures, You Are What You Is, Tinsel-Town Rebellion, and Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch with new lyrics. It is definitely for the seasoned fan (the conceptual continuity clues make an integral part of the experience), but more than rehashed material.

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