The Leader Of The Mothers

By Brian Van der Horst

New York Free Press, March 28, 1968

The Mothers of Invention
Verve V6 5045

Disparate bags. Strange trips. Good thing too, I was ready to scram if I had to use the words "raga-fuzz-folk-rock" once more. Then there are albums like this ... totally unpredictable, anachronistic, but a welcome change from the spate of imitation Beatles/Airplane/Stones recordings.

Frank Zappa, leader of the Mothers, says that it's a variety show at Camp Reagan, where they have concentrated all the California hippies in an imaginative (?) police state of the future.

A weird trip, but not necessary. The album stands on its own.

It must be remembered that the others are one, of the two groups in the country (along with the Fugs) who have sold recordings without ever getting played on a major radio station. Headman Zappa is a genius of the mixing and recording studios. Also very brilliant generally in music, he has a facility for breathtaking, split-second, hair-pin turns of musical narrative. He'll change key, idiom, octave on a vocal all in one swell bop.

One minute we'll be in the middle the epitome of 1956 slush-rock, and he's through in a Mozart keyboard run on seconds 61 through 65, next hurtling through three bars of electronic squawk-schrunk feedback syndromes.

And everyone in the band knows how' to play – sax, guitar, drums, flute, timpani, harpsichord – they're a batonic batallion.

The album is in form, a satire of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. The cover shows all the boys in drag, just like the Beatles posed in uniform. All the lyrics, are printed on the jacket, ditto-like; and they even have the funeral set-up from the Sgt. Pepper for a group photograph.

And like the Beatles' masterpiece, We're Only In It For The Money is an entire work, with meaningless subdivisions, but a more meaningful entirety. It's a sort of rock-opera on American Life, as usual for the Mothers, but you can't help being amazed at the accuracy of their barbs or how well-honed shine their foils.

From the initial way they prick themselves under your skin with "Are You Hung Up?" to bedroom vignettes like "Harry You're a Beast" ("Madge I want your body!/Harry, get back!/Madge, it's not merely physical! Harry You're a beast!/censored, censored censored censored/censored censored censored/censored censored censored/Madge ... I couldn't help it ... I ... doggone it!"), and a host of spooky little descriptions of natural everyday horror stories of life around us like "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," which has a genuine Saki feel to it.

Of course, the humor is all a little gritty. Like the speedfreak too turned on to himself to comprehend that his laughter is getting vicious and hollow. But the originality of it!

Zappa is turning out to be the Baudelaire of rock. Turning a musical' microscope on the American foibles, and rightfully painting the luxurious cancers monochrome "dysentery green."

But is there no end to wrath at the middle class? Is the drift of it all to "discorporate/and we'll begin/Freedom! Freedom!/Kindly Loving!/You're absolutely free/only if you want to be."

The Mothers have always upheld the standard for freak-out as a way of life. But what a way ... putting on, cutting in ... throwing out. It's a hard way to live. Yet the Mothers are capable of producing emotional reactions of sheer dramatic force.

Baudelaire died young, drunk, Syphilitic, addicted and diseased. He left behind him the beauty of uncensored anguish, the stillness of unconcerned despair.

The Mothers leave you humming a few catchy tunes and a sudden wrenching away – for a moment – [...] shocked instant of unclear confrontation. If you laugh or weep when you're half way through a double take, you won't be able to decide – you'll just react.


All lyrics copyright by FRANK ZAPPA MUSIC CO., Inc. a subsidiary of Third Story Music, Inc.