Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch
(out of a possible five)
Doesn't suck that some of FZ albums have only six songs?* Well, if four of those six songs
are the last four songs on "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save A Drowning Witch",
then, no, it doesn't suck. It fact, it amounts to one hell of an enjoyable album.
I never listen to the first two tracks on this album- "No Not Now" and
"Valley Girl". While I forced myself to do so prior to reviewing this, the
experience only reminded me of why I always skip the songs in the first place- they are
outright dull. Repetitive, way too long, performed in a generic, rock band manner, these
two tracks lie at the bottom of Frank's songwriting barrel. Yes, "No Not Now"
has some minor Conceptual Continuity clues, but I can just as easily (and more enjoyably)
get these from the liner notes; and "Valley Girl" does nothing but remind me of
junior high school and that Am radio staple, the Mighty 690, coming out of Tijuana. Yes,
these songs are better off left alone.
But then song number three begins playing, and everything is all right. We get aggressive,
proto-metal, with ridiculously oversung lyrics that work perfectly, topped off by one of
Frank's best xenochrany efforts. Things get even better with "Drowning Witch", a
Frank Zappa tour-de-force. Amusing lyrics, sprechsgang vocals, impossibly performed parts,
and two- count them two- FZ guitar solos. The closing "Envelopes" and
"Teen-age Prostitute" obviously cannot compare to this mini-monster, but the
aggressive ugliness of the former and the operatic flourishes of the latter keep the
No, this album is not an all-time Zappa classic. The first two songs prevent that from
happening, and the remaining songs are not THAT strong. But the energy is strong, the
performances are inspired, and "Drowning Witch"- the song- is one of Frank's all
time greats. For that alone, this is a must own album.
*refers to an thread currently (4/98) running on AFFZ
THE LIVE EFFECT
The only song that had a real effect on Live Zappa is "Drowning Witch", which
produced some of Frank's best solos during the '81 and '82 tours. Other than this, three
of the songs never saw the light of concert day, and the other two were minor additions at
NO NOT NOW- Never performed live.
VALLEY GIRL- Never performed live, although Moon Unit did give a Valley Girl spiel during
a 6/26/82 "King Kong".
I COME FROM NOWHERE- Never performed live.
DROWNING WITCH- This premiered in Fall '80 as an inconsequential little sprechsgang piece
consisting of the majority of the lyrics, and nothing more. It debuted as the instrumental
monster we know during Fall '81, and produced some of the best guitar solos of the decade
(several tracks on "Guitar"). For the '82 tour, it again terrorized set lists
though in a slightly shortened version, with the "ritual sacrifice" portion left
out (guitar solo- "St. Etienne"). It's last tour of duty was during the '84
tour, where it returned in full-length form, but sadly failed to produce any outright
great guitar solos (YCDTOSA III) (though the 11/30 performance was an outright Monster
Song, complete with solos from almost every band member). Despite the weaker efforts on
guitar, the song was nevertheless always a treat to hear, with Ike always providing some
rather amusing ad-libs.
ENVELOPES- This premiered on the Fall '77 tour, with lyrics (see my Fall '77 page for a
copy of these). It stuck around through Winter '78 (again with lyrics), before
disappearing until '81. For the '81 tour, it was commonly performed before "Drowning
Witch", and for its final tour- '82- it was commonly performed after "Drowning
TEEN-AGE PROSTITUTE- Only performed during the '81 tour, and sung by both Robert Martin
and Lisa Popeil (official album version).
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