Mothers' Release: Mind Pollution is Satirized by Zappa
By Evan Sarzin
If the music of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention has always been somewhat incomprehensible, if not distasteful, to all but a handful of socially maladjusted teen-age boys suffering from terminal acne (which is Zappa's own conception of his following) it is probably Zappa himself who is to blame. Until the emergence of glitter-rock in the person of David Bowie and Alice Cooper (a Zappa protégé), the Mothers were the radical center of the music world, finding targets for their hostile social criticism on every side. Zappa is at once an ideologically consistent individual and an increasingly inconsistent artist. This is evident in the latest Mothers' record, "Over-Nite Sensation," on the Discreet label. Further understanding of this dichotomy can be gained by observing how Zappa chooses to release his albums.
All that is the Mothers is really Frank Zappa. But in spite of this complete artistic control, he still releases certain projects under his own name. This is where the inconsistency in his music lies. Whereas his own albums have always been devoted primarily to improvisation and a more avant-garde strain, he uses the Mothers as his launching pad for sociopolitical commentary. This latest offering is no exception.
Zappa has chosen mind pollution and the mass market, the birthplace of the overnight sensation, as the object of this latest satire. Excluding occasional departures to the realms of sodomy and eczema, he does not stray from his portrayal of the monotonous audio-visual consciousness which we have learned to live with. Zappa satirizes not only the mass market, but also the myths it helps to promote.
This album is not a complete triumph, and it is not a lack of lyrical substance which denies it its power. Oddly, it is Zappa's own music, usually of unparalleled quality, which fails. Zappy unfortunately saves his best music for his own albums, which serve as a spring board for musical innovation. Only in these releases does he offer the large blocks of space for improvisation within a progressive structure. The Mothers' albums have a relatively rigid structure and the soloists are given more routine melodies and chord patterns with which to work. Blues-based melodies of varying originality, superimposed upon ordinary blues chord patterns form the bulk of this release.
This pattern is something which Zappa himself must realize. As this divergence in his music appeared, he allowed his albums to carry on the innovation of the early Mothers of Invention albums. Simultaneously the group name was shortened officially to Mothers. The net result of this procedure on this and most of his recent Mothers' albums, with the exception of "The Grand Wazoo," is musical uniformity, though the current effort is definitely superior. The flawless performance of returning the Mothers, pianist George Duke, Ian Underwood on reeds and the participation of violinist Jean Luc-Ponty give the album its musical strength. It is possible to excuse Zappa by saying that he effectively expresses monotony with monotony. This is unfair to Zappa because he has shown that he can depict similar aspects of the American experience by writing highly original and powerful music in both the recent and distant past.
Which is to say that "Over-Nite Sensation" is great anyway, because half-hearted Zappa is still more compelling than many writers' most earnest works. He does get his point across, although anemically at times. Happily, he has more pressing ideas to express than a running commentary on the relative merits of pop stardom (Ziggy, take note).
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