Mike Keneally sits in the shadow of Steve Vai when it comes to remembrances of who was and was not Frank Zappa's death-defying gee-tar sidekick. The truth is they both were known as 'players of the impossible parts' and 'stunt guitarists', but Keneally came in at a bad time, when The Zap's 1988 tour was untimely cancelled and, five years later, the grinning genius was dead (I say of iatrogenic allopathic treatment and very possibly designedly so, given Frank's run-ins with movers and shakers in federal government like Susan and James Baker III as well as Tipper and Al Gore and others, but I suppose that's out of place in a music review). What might have happened otherwise, had FZ beaten the odds and returned to full fury, is impossible to say, but, in view of Mike's published solo output, I think Zappa would undoubtedly have come around to collaborating with him again, as Keneally's been a prime exponent of progressive art damage music, so much so that he's doomed to exist as a highly regarded cult figure rather than a target for riches, fame, nekkid wimmens, and corporate intrigue. I'm sure the absence of that last one causes him no end of existential angst.
You Must be This Tall is no exception to Mike's work, he's not about to pull a Flaming Lips move, and, if the RIO crowd was still around (I'm told it is, in new amorphous regalia, but am dubious), he'd be part of that too, politics included, as Popes, a hilarious metaphorical rip on the Vatican, well illustrates. The lion's share of Tall is instrumental, with four cuts sporting lyrics, and dominated by Kenneally's peripatetic guitar…though as a musical allsorts, he plays damn near everything: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, harmonica, voices, effects, you name it, if he doesn't play it already then he's likely learning it. Some wag once privately opined to me that his music is also Canterbury-based, and I started to gut the liar right then and there but then realized with a smirk that he was correct, as Kidzapunk quite nicely demonstrates. Took a while to get the gent's intestines all back in correctly, but he understood: While we critics are not to be trusted, we always realize our mistakes and say 'I'm sorry'. It's only polite.
So, you ask: "Has Mike mellowed any?" Are ya kiddin'? Tall is as fragmented, demented, circumvented, hyperventilated, and decorticated as anything the guy's ever done, though perhaps not quite so abrasive as some of the rest of his catalog. Many melodies here actually do not wound the ears or cause toenails to fall out amid rains of frogs and nukular lightning, probably attributable to the fact that he's now 51 going on 25 and not quite so full of piss and vinegar musically. Hell, most of The Rider is actually hum-able!…until he gets to the solo, of course. There are other musicians on many cuts, Bryan Beller et al, but the emphasis is solidly Keneallian, as it should be. Missing the wildest part of Zappa's old repertoire, are ya? Then start with Mike's Glop and work the CD backwards. If that cut doesn't fuck with your head, then you're a stouter fan that I am, Gunga Dim.
Too, catch that way the hell too cool photo on the cover, of the 1905 Luna Park on Coney Island. Thet h'ain't no Cecil B. DeMille stage set or trickeried-up collage snapshot, nossir! It's the real deal and lookin' like a side avenue from the Shapes of Things to Come movie. Unreal and then some. And speaking of of unreal, surreal, and sardonic, Keneally's running this bit of strangeness on YouTube:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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