FRANK ZAPPA — Sheik Yerbouti (review)

FRANK ZAPPA — Sheik Yerbouti album cover Live album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
UMUR
"Sheik Yerbouti" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was originally released in March 1979 as a double vinyl release through Zappa Records. It was the first release on Zappa´s own label after his acrimonious split with manager and business partner Herb Cohen in May 1976, which meant the end of their co-owned DiscReet Records and a host of lawsuits and disagreements over the remaining part of their distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records. "Sheik Yerbouti" bridges the gap between the two last (out of four) individual albums that Warner Bros. Records released featuring material which was originally meant to be released on the four-LP box set Läther. A box set which was shelved and split into four albums and released by Warner Bros. Records without Zappa´s full consent. The two albums bookending "Sheik Yerbouti" are "Sleep Dirt" from January 1979 and "Orchestral Favorites" from May 1979.

"Sheik Yerbouti" ended up being Zappa´s most commercially successful release and it laid the foundation for the mainstream success (well...relative mainstream success) he had in the 80s. Most of the basic tracks were recorded during 1977/1978 live performances and later spliced with studio overdubs. In typical Zappa fashion it´s most of the time impossible to hear where the live tracks and the studio overdubs start and end. What you´ll experience as a listener is just a very well produced album, featuring an organic, professional, and detailed sound production, helping the material shine like the best quality productions always do.

"Sheik Yerbouti" is loved by many but loathed by just as many as a consequence of the sexually explicit lyrics (although some of them are hidden behind secret words and descriptions) and lyrical topics poking fun at union workers, disco, a certain type of Jewish women, egotism...etc. "Jewish Princess" is considered particularly controversial and even some interpret it as anti-semitic. Zappa refused to apologies though and maintained that he just described a certain type of women that he had observed. "Bobby Brown" is another song which is often considered controversial because of the sexually explicit lyrics which includes stereotyping of lesbians, golden showers, rape, and anal sex. It´s all done with a gleam in the eye and the great social satirical angle that Zappa was known for.

"Sheik Yerbouti" is overall a very eclectic release featuring pop/mainstream oriented songs, which could have been played on commercial radio (and were in some countries), if it wasn´t for the explicit lyrics, rock songs, progressive rock songs, avant garde pieces, jazz/fusion, punk, and silly spoken word dialogue from the band members. Featuring no less than 18 tracks and a total playing time of 71:40 minutes, there are a lot of material and minutes for Zappa to guide us through the many different sounds and styles of "Sheik Yerbouti". The vocal part of the album deserves a special mention. It´s primarily Zappa himself and drummer Terry Bozzio who sing the lead vocal parts on the album, but Napoleon Murphy Brock is credited for singing lead vocals on "Wild Love" (along with Tommy Mars) and Adrian Belew sings the lead vocals on "Jones Crusher" and "City of Tiny Lites" (as well as performing the Bob Dylan impersonation on "Flakes"). Bassist Patrick O'Hearn is also credited for performing some lead vocalst. Naturally with that many lead vocalists and a host of backing vocalists, the vocal part of the album is equally as eclectic in nature as the instrumental part of the material.

It would be wrong to call any Frank Zappa related release an easy listen or mainstream oriented, but parts of "Sheik Yerbouti" are probably the closest you´ll get to that with Zappa. However the eclectic nature of the album ensures that the listener is constantly kept on his/her toes and challenged by the clever compositions and high level musical performances. Are some of the lyrics offensive or in bad taste? I guess it depends on the ears that hear and the morale and political/social values of the listener. Personally I find the lyrics quite brilliant, and in my opinion even the most silly and borderline mean lyrics should be understood as social commentary rather than hateful rantings. Upon conclusion "Sheik Yerbouti" is one of the essential albums in Zappa´s discography, and especially essential if you´re looking for his most accessible comedic/satirical releases. A 5 star (100%) rating is fully deserved.
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