Mystery Disc

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


During the '80s, Frank Zappa created special boxed sets of some of his earlier albums, and sold them to fans as The Old Masters. As an incentive for fans to spend their money on albums they undoubtedly had (albeit in nicer condition), Zappa included a bonus record featuring material never made before elsewhere.

After Zappa's death in 1993, all but two of the cuts featured on these bonus records - known as "Mystery Discs" - were released on the CD Mystery Disc. (The remaining two tracks had become bonus tracks on Absolutely Free.) Yet listening to this disc, I had to wonder why many of these selections were even let out of the vault.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Granted, some of these have their own unique charms - "Charva," "Original Duke Of Prunes" and "Theme From 'Run Home Slow'" all are interesting snapshots of Zappa as a young, up-and-coming artist, and they are enjoyable to listen to. The same can be said for "Speed Freak Boogie," "Black Beauty" and "Wedding Dress Song / The Handsome Cabin Boy" (which sounds exactly like the version on The Lost Sessions), as well as early versions of "How Could I Be Such A Fool" and "Plastic People".

So far, so good, right? So why would Mystery Disc also include what sounds like a generous portion of the on-stage play featured on Ahead Of Their Time yet again? If it's not the same performance from that night in London in 1968, it sounds damned similar. Granted, I could say that a different version of "Charva" was on The Lost Sessions, but this track is still pretty enjoyable.

What tends to drag Mystery Disc down are the numerous spoken-word pieces that seem to have no real place in the vast Zappa catalog, such as "Opening Night Party At Studio Z" (though I understand the historic significance of its inclusion), "I Was A Teenage Malt Shop" or "Original Mothers At The Fillmore East". Yeah, the diehard Zappa fan will probably drool at hearing such historical nuggets, but to most people, these will just serve as interruptions to the musical flow. (And, yes, I know that Zappa used spoken-word well in the course of albums like Sheik Yerbouti, but it just doesn't work as well this time around.)

In fact, if I had to choose between Mystery Disc and The Lost Sessions as to which is the better treasure trove, I'd have to pick The Lost Sessions. Mystery Disc has its moments, but turns out to be one of those discs that only Zappa completists need to own.

2005 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault." All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: C

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.