Frank Zappa: 200 Motels

By Mike Bourne

DownBeat, 20 January 1972

200 MOTELS – United Artists/Bizarre UAS9956. Personnel: Zappa, guitar, bass, musical direction; Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, vocals, special material; Ian Underwood, keyboards, winds; George Duke, keyboards, trombone; Martin Lickert, bass; Aynsley Dunbar, Ruth Underwood, drums; Jimmy Carl Black, vocal; Jim Pons, voice; Top Score Singers, conducted by David Van Asch; Classical Guitar Ensemble, conducted by John Williams; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Elgar Howarth; Theodore Bikel, narration.

Rating: ★★★

Up front, the drag ot 200 Motels is that of any soundtrack LP – divorced from the film, the music intended to accompany action no longer does that.

Of course. Motels is no ordinary film. Like Zappa's music, the plot (if such) is directed along a bizarre order of satiric and satyric visions. And so, in the midst of all the varied shards of recorded score come theatrical vignettes of sorts: a dramatization of bassist Jeff Simmons vs. his conscience prior to his split with the Mothers; a Kaylan/Volman dissertation on the "subconscious tensions" regarding genital size; a quasi-reminiscence of the Centervilles everywhere; and so forth, plus an extended finale.

Musically, Motels proves equally diverse, although somewhat convoluted. Then again, given the soundtrack character, none of it plays together, at least not exactly. Orchestral themes wrench into rock songs or snatches of comedy, some of it obscure and most of it aborted before well enough developed. Certainly the brilliance of Zappa is heard but only here and there, seldom well-focused enough to appreciate as it is.

Perhaps after one has seen the film, the record might make it. But without seeing, hearing alone is a difficult experience. Of course, any and all music by Zappa is sometimes exciting, even if as here it proves more a creative puzzle than a whole piece.

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