Frank Zappa 200 Motels (50th Anniversary Edition)

By Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock, December 2021

Frank Zappa 200 Motels (50th Anniversary Edition) ZAPPA/UME

Non-essential indulgence gets the £125 treatment. As Zappa metamorphosed his singular art from the sociopolitical, post-Varèse, satirical freakery of the Mothers Of Invention’s We’re Only In It For The Money to the relatively slick commercial viability of The Mothers’ Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe (!), he did an awful lot of growing up in public, over-indulging himself with orchestral experiments and a semi-autobiographical, in-joke-heavy film with a patience-testing double vinyl soundtrack way beyond the budget, or indeed ego, of any equivalent artist today.

Affluent Zappaphiles with extremely tolerant partners will irrefutably suck up this 173-track, six-CD monster as if it were so much ambrosia, but for most the double vinyl/two-CD edition will do just fine, thanks. For while 200 Motels has its moments (Jimmy Carl Black hamming his way through Lonesome Cowboy Burt), it’s hardly essential. Directionless pomp, puerile lyrics that don’t play too well post-#metoo, baffling interludes of avant-classical pretension, there’s little-to-no quality control at work. And that’s just the core material that made up the original artefact. So who needs the demos? Out-takes? Radio ads? Obsessive-compulsive completist collectors dispassionately crossing ’t’s and dotting ‘i’s, that’s who. That said, you do get a Do-Not-Disturb motel door hanger tucked inside the box set, and who among us wouldn’t want one of those?

Ultimately, though, it seems that for discerning members of FZ’s fan base who are intent on keeping their archive definitive, the torture never stops.