Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention – One Size Fits All

By Lester Bangs

Creem, September 1975

One Size Fits All

Frank Zappa is incapable of writing a solid, memorable, hummable pop/rock melody; the kind of melody with a hook that sticks in your mind so well it may overstay itself and become obnoxious. Since obnoxiousness is very important to him, however, he contents himself with writing essentially the same jerky scales and squiggles over and over, the kind of jello-brain music that sounds like tinkertoys running amok and reinforces your suspicion that he was the secret father of all those latter-day irritants like Sparks and Todd Rundgren's most strenuously indulgent side.

He compensates partially for all this distraction by playing decent guitar, hot enough but short on direction, I and surrounding himself consistently with capable musicians and imaginative improvisers like George Duke; as long as they stick to jamming, any given Zappa record is going to cook enough in a Hot Rats vein to almost redeem itself. Unfortunately, however, Zappa made his name as someone with Something To Say to the ragtag legions who were such easy targets for the early Mothers; abuse. He ran out of topical relevance even quicker than most of his musical contemporaries, largely forfeited lyrical cogency early on, and has for several years been recycling adolescent grossout yuks interspersed with random verbiage "Andy de vine/ Had a thong rind/It was sublime" etc.) of a style that was done to perfection by Captain Beefheart in Trout Mask Replica and hasn't been pulled off successfully enough to amount to anything more than drool by anybody since then. Zappa's lyrics only begin to work when they redelve into the Southern California greaser suburb murk-Montclair mentality ("He got slobberin' drunk at the Palomino /They gave him thirty days in San Ber'dino" may be this record's only good couplet), and even then whatever possible effectiveness they might have is usually obscured by his aforementioned melodic quirks which tend to keep the vocalist gibbering like a Pachuco on whites humping the glory hole of a pinball machine.

Which brings us, finally, to the matter of Zappa's audience, who have masochistically lapped up his contempt for so long that there is no reason anyone else should have respect for them. Ironically, they are the very people he lampooned so savagely in his early records: greasers, bikers, lumpen hippies, zit cultures, walking dirtclods, subhumans who are proud of it. And Frank is their avatar: he loots enough styles to make music that sounds complicated, throws in a melange of words big ("ambient domains," "panchromatic resonance") and little ("Po-oh-wo-oh-oh," "zulch"), and markets the whole stew in equally jumbled packages, so that if you compound the already dim with dope the result may be perceived as some bastard's dada or at least far out. There are those who will eat yellow snow.