FRANK ZAPPA Strictly Commercial The Best Of Frank Zappa (Rykodisc)

Although it might not be at the top of your personal wants list, what the world needs now, more than ever, is a decent Frank Zappa compilation. Despite his legendary revisionist approach to music making Zappa never found time to piece together a proper ‘compilation’ in the sense of the word that the man in the queue in Woolworths would recognise, and as such demand for the odd promotional snippet, such as the sampler albums that accompanied the "Old Masters" box sets, has been unusually high. Happily, Rykodisc, the world’s most understanding record company, have followed last years gargantuan reissuing of the entire FZ catalogue (all 50+ albums of it) with this ‘official’ beginners guide.

Predictably, it sticks with the more ‘easily-digestible’ aspects of Zappa’s work - no fifteen minute avante-garde jazz or orchestral works, and almost no guitar solos - but when that means classics such as "Peaches En Regalia", "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama", "Montana" and "Muffin Man" that’s hardly a complaint. Unsurprisingly, Zappa’s mid/late 70s solo albums dominate, with "Sheik Yerbouti", "Apostrophe’" and "Overnite Sensation" all contributing two or more tracks apiece, with the rough-edged Mothers of Invention recordings and the over-glossy Synclavier work perhaps justifiably sidelined. There’s still room for the thirty year old "Trouble Every Day", whose lyrics about race riots and the dehumanising effects of television pretty much encapsulate the entirety of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy album in under six minutes, and make you wonder what Zappa might have achieved if he’d stuck with this kind of committed social commentary. Still, with its almost perfect content and Terry Gilliam’s booklet essay that sums up Zappa’s entire modus operandi in under 400 words, "Strictly Commercial" is the perfect introduction to the great man’s sprawling back catalogue, and arguably one album that all of us here could find something to enjoy on.

FRANK ZAPPA Cheap Thrills (Rykodisc)

"Cheap Thrills" is Rykodisc’s second Zappa compilation CD, released ostensibly to promote a series of newly mid-priced Zappa titles. As such, it’s only a partial success: on the credit side it’s ridiculously cheap (3.49 direct from Rykodisc’s mail order service - some shops are trying to sell it for 7.99 or more, don’t let ‘em get away with it!) and contains over 45 minutes of music from all points of Frank Vincent’s career, including live tracks and excepts from his ‘audio verite’ documentaries. Plus there’s a good acreage of Cal Schenkel’s thunderingly tasteless artwerk. On the other hand, well, I don’t want to sound like some prim PC evangelist but the likes of "Catholic Girls" and "Bobby Brown Goes Down" just aren’t that amusing to me anymore, and as an introduction to FZ’s muse "Cheap Thrills" fails dismally compared to the comprehensively wonderful "Strictly Commercial" compilation Rykodisc released a few years back. In fact it’s somewhat ironic that the people likely to enjoy "Cheap Thrills" the most - dyed-in-the-beard Zappa fanatics - probably have all of these tracks already. Ho hum.

FRANK ZAPPA Son Of Cheep Thrills (Rykodisc)

"Son Of Cheep Thrills" is another of Rykodisc's apparently random budget-priced trawls through FZ's extensive back catalogue, an exercise almost guaranteed to unveil new or forgotten buried treasure irrespective of the size of your Zappa collection. Best bits for me include the ever-entertaining cover of The Four Deuces "WPLJ" that originally surfaced on "Burnt Weeny Sandwich", the laid-back jazz of "Twenty Small Cigars", the astonishing slide- and Hawaiian-guitar interlude on "It Just Might Be A One-Shot Deal" and the surprisingly entertaining excerpt from his Synclavier album "Jazz From Hell". Although hardly the medium for turning a confused beginner into a raving Zappaholic, "Son Of Cheep Thrills" is still an interesting way to spend 45 minutes, and comes wrapped up with another good acreage of Cal Schenkel artwork and an 'enhanced CD' Zappa catalogue for the suitably equipped, all for the bargain bucket price of 2.99.