The Mothers "Over-Nite Sensation"

By Crocus Behemoth

Scene, 4 October 1973

The Mothers
DiscReet Records

It may only be some twisted sense of nostalgia. I don’t think so though. It seems to me Frank Zappa is washed up. When I remember UNCLE MEAT and ABSOLUTELY FREE, I remember Zappa as a bird-like creature who was very important to, what was then, the rock culture. He doesn’t seem important anymore.

He wasn’t just a cult hero. He was an artist; whether or not he meant to be is irrelevant. He irrevocably influenced a lot of us. His music, for the time, was ambitious and experimental. And he was the only important satirist in the American rock scene.

Though Zappa has become amazingly popular for someone with “no commercial appeal,” he hasn’t produced any important satire for nearly five years and though he’s fully explored his musical ideas, he’s ceased to be experimental. He works & reworks the same patterns. He really hasn’t tried anything new since HOT RATS. Zappa’s become more of a technician, albeit a brilliant one. He’s not an artist. He’s not important anymore.

That’s why I wasn’t excited by the release of OVER-NITE SENSATION. It’s not a bad album; Zappa can’t make a bad album. It’s just not an impressive album. The music rides in the back seat. Up front and behind the wheel are banal and cheap sex jokes. Real low-life grub.

If you keep track of such things, OVER-NITE SENSATION marks yet another phase of Zappa’s musical career. He’s got a new label on Warner Brothers, DiscReet. He’s got a new band, one that may be permanent ... for awhile. He’s returned from the more esoteric jazz things he’d been doing for the last two albums; OVER-NITE SENSATION is more to the rock side of that ambiguous border area, jazz-rock.

I’d imagine Zappa is very happy with his current Mothers. He should be. It’s a very versatile, diverse and talented group. The nine member band includes horns, keyboards, reeds and a violin and is the most prestigious grouping of Mothers Zappa has ever employed. George Duke, keyboards, comes from Cannonball Adderly’s band and a couple previous Mothers bands. Sal Marquez and Ian Underwood are also Mothers veterans. Jean-Luc Ponty is a new Mother. He’ll become popular working for Zappa, but he’s long been considered an exceptional jazz violinist by those who’ve heard him.

Considering all the talent in Zappa’s band, the final product is rather depressing. Zappa has the makings of a very strong jazz-rock band. Instead of a serious album, however, OVER-NITE SENSATION is a money-maker.

“Camarillo Brillo’’ and “Fifty-Fifty” are the most worthwhile cuts. “Camarillo Brillo” is a low-keyed, Zappa rocker. The basic riff is catchy, Zappa’s guitar fills and leads are effective and the songs build well as tasteful horn and electric piano, parts come in. No one can deny that Zappa can arrange a song as well as anyone in rock, if he wants to. Even his tasteless efforts are tasteful.

“Fifty-Fifty” is the only cut that has any extensive soloing. Duke, Ponty and Zappa each take their turns. Each is excellent, and though they all solo along the same pattern, the cumulative effect is powerful and captivating. Zappa’s frenetic guitar playing segues nicely out of Ponty’s violin work. If it weren’t for the differing timbres, you might think Zappa was playing a violin. There’s no doubt that Zappa is one hell of a guitarist. He continues to improve, though his penchant for stringing a lot of notes together in a little space is getting pretty worn. If the rest of the album had relied on strong inventive ensemble work and soloing, OVER-NITE SENSATION would have been a great album. It’s not a great album. There’s too much potential that’s not fully exploited. There’s too much talent untapped.

On four of the remaining five tracks, you wait impatiently thrbugh the vocal parts to get the meat – Zappa’s music, with its frequent and irreverent time and key changes, its pachuco vocalizing and its frenetic riffs. Cute porno, however, does not a song make and who really wants to hear about all these weird women he balls? That’s what you’re gonna hear, however, with all too little solid music to support it.

I’ve given up on Zappa. I hoped that with his new band he would put out a strong album of jazz-rock and, maybe, just possibly, explore some new directions. Instead, OVER-NITE SENSATION is a cheap barroom joke. Oh, yeah, the kids are gonna love it.