The Mothers – “Over-Nite Sensation”

By Charles Shaar Murray

New Musical Express, 1 September 1973

SOME FOLKS I know have been getting rather worried about Frank Zappa lately. In the last four years, he seemed to be oscillatingly uncomfortabley between the knock-about comedy of Flo and Eddie’s tenure in the Mothers, and what has been unkindly referred to as “A-Level Jazz.”

In addition, that Rainbow spill wasn’t exactly calculated to smooth out an already unpredictable future. So in the last few years, there’s been “Fillmore East/June 1971″ which carried itself along on sheer manic craziness, and Just Another Band From L.A.”, which exhausted itself halfway through the first side, and barely recovers in its later stages. After that came “Waka/Jawaka”, possibly the lowest point in Zappa’s jazz career, and the big-band album “Grand Wazoo”, which was at least as good as Don Ellis at his best, and infinitely better than most.

So now the Mothers ride again. “Over-Nite Sensation” is a very relaxed album of slight-but-charming songs written and sung by Zappa himself, decorated with all kinds of musical razzle-dazzle and played and produced with an exquisite combination of taste, imagination, dexterity and humour. I mean… it’s real nice. You can dance to it with your girlfriend. There are no creepy talking bits, none of that avant-garde nonsense, and only one song that’s even vaguely political. It’s clean! It’s sweet! It’s lotsa fun for you and all your friends!

On “I’m The Slime”, the Mothers cook up a gritty “Freddie’s Dead” type of riff while Frank rumbles away about the slime that crawls from radios and TVs. “Fifty-Fifty” sounds like Edgar Winter undergoing open-heart surgery without anaesthetic, and “Dinah-Moe Humm” may well be a scurrilous attack on Johnny Cash and Tina Turner. But Zappa saves up his killer punches for a tune called “Montana,” which is superficially about dental floss. You don’t know what dental floss is? You obviously didn’t read the Zappa interview (last week, page 5).

Got it? All right. The theme of the song is retiring to Montana to open a dental floss plantation, and it goes through a mock-Western bit before settling down into a singularly tough groove and allowing Frank to get off a couple of minutes of blistering guitar. Then there’s a section, which could have come straight from “200 Motels”, where a chick choir sings some amazingly convoluted lines against a marimba accompaniment before the Western bit comes back, but this time a marvellously spooky voice sings “Yippie-i-o-ti-aye” over the chorus. It’s brilliantly done, and if one of those hokey country-rock groups had done it, it would have been absolutely straight and what’s more it would’ve worked. Kudos, Frank.

“Over-Nite Sensation” is certainly not one of Frank’s most outstanding efforts, but it’s a very likable and very accessible album. It’s sweet, neat and almost discreet. Kiss my aura, Dora — it’s real angora!