2016-02-12

Album Review: Z - Bone-Us Disc

Dweezil Zappa is known among a certain crowd, but few people have really followed his music. I count myself among a rare group of dedicated fans.

Believe it or not, I discovered Dweezil before I discovered his father Frank. I was reading a guitar magazine, and they happened to do a brief interview in support of Dweezil's then-new album Music for Pets, released under the band name "Z." Z consisted of Dweezil on guitar and vocals, brother Ahmet Zappa on lead vocals, legendary sideman-to-the-stars Mike Keneally on guitar, Bryan Beller (now of the Aristocrats) on bass, and Joe Travers on drums. With a roster like that, how could they be anything but a fantastic band?

The Bone-Us Disc is a rare collection of leftovers from the Music for Pets sessions. The songs range from humorous Van Halen tributes ("Badass"), pop-rock pleasers ("Enigma," "Ask Yourself," "Not My Fault"), and delightfully bizarre humor songs ("I Wants Me Gold," for example...).

This disc - which I purchased in the context of the "Video Box Set," a VHS home video and merch goodie-basket that is still available from Barfko-Swill - does a great job of showing off what made Z unique. They willingly embraced the most whimsical aspects of their sense of humor and fused it with surprisingly intense, guitar-driven music. In that regard, a comparison to their father is well-deserved. Still, Z's music never pretended to be the revised orchestral compositions that much of Frank's music was. If you can imagine a group of good-natured musical geniuses trying to crack each other up, that's basically what Z sounded like.

On their first album, Z hadn't yet hit their stride. The band still felt like an offshoot of Dweezil's failed solo career as an 80s guitar god. Still, they managed to nail a certain aspect of the then-up-and-coming grunge sound on a couple of songs. By the time Music for Pets hit, the band was comfortable with its identity and the album sounded slick. Bone-Us Disc, then, is something of a middle step, presenting a large dose of the chaos prevalent on Shampoohorn, but with the more refined compositional elements of Music for Pets.

What the Bone-Us Disc lacks, unfortunately, is a display of musical virtuosity. We're talking about some of the most gifted musicians of their generation, whose technicality is on full display on most of their discography. On this collection, they don't over-play. That's often a good thing, but in this case it feels like they're holding too much back.

At the same time, there are a couple of songs that simply should have featured on Music for Pets as primary releases. In particular, the album close, "Here," is possibly the best straight-ahead rock song Dweezil has ever written. How and why it never found itself on a major release I'll never understand.

That magazine interview by which I was introduced to Dweezil's music featured a discussion of Dweezil's having attempted to jokingly imitate Edward Van Halen throughout the Music for Pets sessions. On that album, however, only one true EVH tribute appears (a great song called "Chicken Out"). All the other attempts seem to have made their way onto the Bone-Us Disc, making it a very interesting look at Dweezil's unique ability to channel the guitar sounds of other guitarists. One could easily believe that the guitarist playing on many of these songs really is Edward himself.

This is a fun disc. Not many people have heard it, and that's a shame. Many of these tracks aren't even available on YouTube, a problem I might consider remedying at some point. Prior to the "Zappa Plays Zappa" initiative, I don't think most people understood what a superb player Dweezil really is. A deep dive into his musical catalog, including this Bone-Us Disc reveals the musical prodigy that many have missed.