Frank Zappa: Chunga's Revenge

By Mark Leviton

Creem, March 1971

Chunga's Revenge
Frank Zappa
Bizarre/Reprise 2030

This album is a preview of what is the ultimate rock opera-symphony, 200 Motels, which is constantiy growing and taking on amazing proportions. 200 Motels began as a huge orchestral-choral piece that had its premiere in Los Angcles with the L.A. Philharmonic and Mothers. Although the longest movement, involving the chorus, dancers, a film and Chunga the vacuum cleaner, was omitted, it was still easy to get a view of the enormous scope of the piece, incorporating almost every major Zappa composition. Sometime after that premiere, Zappa decided to add a vocal story line, and the idea of 200 Motels grew to reflect the life and times of a rock star in our Pepsi Generation. I had the good fortune to hear the first public performance of the material on this album, and although some of my favorite songs are left off, most of the tale comes through on this LP.

The personnel is mainly the new Mothers, with some Hot Rats thrown in, but that isn't too important since only the best follow Frank around anyway. For the record, this album includes Ian Underwood, George Duke, Aynsley Dunbar, two Turtles and other folks. Musically, everyone rips any other band around. Zappa has finally lost some of his penchant for extended wa-wa solos, and settles down here to play some highly electric blues and rock, his guitar being handled with more guts and bite. Underwood and Duke freak constantly on the keyboards, especially electric piano and organ. The group, although varying in personnel from cut to cut, is incredibly tight with the kind of purposeful direction that only a leader like Zappa can provide.

Being on Bizarre/Reprise now, Zappa has no worries about censorship, which plagued him on Verve. Most of the text for "200 Motels" is concerned with a couple rock "stars" trying to get some nookie while on tour in a small town. Zappa contents himself with being merely suggestive on this album, but the full live version I heard was far more explicit. Frank's melodies are bluesy and jazzy, carrying lyrics like this description of a gig in Middle America: "The P.A. system eats it/ and the band plays some of the terriblest shit you've ever known." The songs tell of a road tour filled with promoters and groupies and Holiday Inns, and manage to convey some of the boredom and lonesomeness that goes along with that scene. This album is best called a mini-opera, like the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away," it ties itself in for a feeling of coherence and meaning. "This is the fourth album from Zappa in a little more than a year, and that makes it all the more amazing that his LP is as successful as it is.