200 Motels

By Henry Edwards

High Fidelity, February 1972

200 Motels. Original motion picture soundtrack recording.
Mothers of Invention, vocals, rhythm, and instrumental accompaniment; Theodore Bikel, narrator; The Top Score Singers, vocal accompaniment, David Van Asch, cond.; Classical Guitar Ensemble, guitars, John Williams, cond.; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Elgar Howarth, cond. Semi-Fraudulent/Direct-From-Hollywood Overture; Mystery Roach; Dance of the Rock & Roll Interviewers; thirty-one more. United Artists UAS 9956, $5.98 (two discs). Tape: X 04020, $7.98; XC 7020. $7.98.

Before its debut, rumor had it that 200 Motels was the ultimate creative expression of Frank Zappa and his band of musical maniacs, the Mothers of Invention. After the film's opening, most people agreed that it was the Mothers' ultimate creative expression. They also agreed that the movie was awful.

The Mothers have always flaunted their grotesqueness. Willing to satirize or parody almost anything, they've done their best to be outrageous. Occasionally, to prove they are not merely a wild-eyed rock-and-roll band, they've trotted out a classical selection and proceeded to play and/or demolish it. Hostile funky, and anarchistic, the Mothers have frequently set their sights too low and have been sophomoric rather then deadly. 200 Motels is their thirteenth album and they are essentially doing the same things they did when they first recorded in 1966. The only new addition is an increased air of desperation. This desperation poisons the nonstop pandemonium which is the Mothers' featurelength film debut. One can only sympathize with the members of the Royal Philharmonic who saw away futilely at the Zappa score while the Mothers' grab-bag of shenanigans threatens to overwhelm them.

The two-record soundtrack album captures the really inventive moments in the film, and also further illustrates the film's faults. Zappa has composed some terrific songs. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy is a solid rock number; Mystery Roach is another driving tune; Centerville is an apt tribute to middle America, and the score's overture and finale are hilarious comments on movie musicals and grand opera.

The album has eighty-three minutes of Zappa's music. But most of the music is banal, repetitive filler. The Mothers will endure. They are a tough bunch. They also have loads of talent, too much to waste on any more of this adolescent Dada.

I sincerely hope that they decide to grow up.

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