Frank Zappa and The Mothers: Over-Nite Sensation

By Ray Townley

DownBeat, 31 January 1974


OVER-NITE SENSATION – DiscReet MS 2149: Camarillo Brillo; I’m The Slime; Dirty Love; Fifty- Fifty; Zomby Woof; Dinah Moe Humm; Montana.

Personnel: Zappa, guitar, vocals; George Duke, keyboards, synthesizer; Ian Underwood, flute, clarinet, alto, tenor; Ruth Underwood, marimba, vibes, percussion; Jean-Luc Ponty, violin, baritone violin; Sal Marquez, trumpet, vocals; Bruce Fowler, trombone; Tom Fowler, bass; Ralph Humphrey, drums; Kin Vassy, vocals; Ricky Lancelotti, vocals.

Rating: ★★★½

Frank Zappa’s voice has been characterized as “thickly deliberate, like a 45 rpm record played at 33-1/3. It makes him seem supremely dispassionate.” Quite true, yet Zappa’s not so supremely dispassionate that he wipes out the machismo undercurrent that turns everything he says into slurping, slimey obscenities. Whether he’s talking about “movin’ to Montana soon/Just to raise up a crop of Dental Floss,” or such a mundane act as “getting’ a cuppa cawfee,” Zappa is the selfconscious master of the intentionally perverse.

On Over-Nite Sensation, Zappa’s vocal chords, as well as his soiled mind, are stripped bare for public inspection (injection?). This actually (can you believe it) is an album of lightly-structured tunes, heavy with lead vocals and “100,000 girl back-up singers (assorted) who sing in a trained manner and get funky on command” (cf. The Legend of Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus). Zappa takes tracheal honors on most of the cuts, but lets Ricky Lancelotti have the spotlight on Fifty-Fifty. Lancelotti unleashes like an R&B screamer who suddenly has been transmogrified into a crazed social-deviant – a perfect contrast for the more calculating Zappa, who comes across like Wolfman Jack dressed in a Brooks Bros, suit and with a facsimile of a brain in his noggin.

There’s no pretentious concept behind the various lunes; just lots of electronically-twisted guitar runs, burning baritone violin, and a maze of sound colors/textures that pop in and out of the total picture without rhyme (but definitely with reason). Fowler’s trombone, Marquez’ trumpet, and especially the massively creative keyboard work of George Duke add depth and side-line humor to the overall X-rated script.

Compared to all the schlock being vomited onto the market these days, Over-Nite Sensation is a glass of quality cognac. Compared to past Zappa-Mother achievements (Hot Rats, Grand Wazoo, Freak Out, etc.), Over-Nite Sensation is a bottle of Ripple (remember that?). Something to be chugged in a moment of light-headedness. After repeated listenings, a tune like Dinah-Moe Humm, with its overbearing Mailer macho, begins to nauseate like a glut of cheap wine. But in moderation, even a 98c fifth of Red Ripple can satisfy.

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