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Over-Nite Sensation
The Mothers of Invention

DiscReet 2149
Released: September 1973
Chart Peak: #32
Weeks Charted: 50
Certified Gold: 11/9/76

Frank ZappaA year has passed since Just Another Band From L.A., and I awaited this one under the impression that Zappa's output, though becoming predictable, was being perfected. But this LP is shorn of those references which would have made Band incomprehensible to those not having logged time in the city of L.A. Also missing (and missed) are former Turtles Kaylan and Volman, whose Flo and Eddie albums in turn need Zappa.

The formula is wearing thin -- or perhaps this Brucean music of disgust suffers in the current buyers' market for outrage. Only one song, "Montana," approaches parody, and that of an indefinite genre. Nothing here is as ear-licking good as Band's send-ups of the Rascals and CSN&Y. One of Zappa's most persistent themes and/or subjects, silly hippies, though it provides the best cut ("Camarillo Brillo") seems, well, dated.

Except that this is close to a good record, one would be tempted to compare Zappa to Henry Miller, with whom the former shares a vision of sex as rancid, dumb and funny: Like Miller getting older, he is less shocking, tapeworming himself, and overwriting.

Even if the lyrics are jokes, this is machismo rock in the Miller style. The composite love-object wears a "rancid pancho," has bug-ridden hair, "bovine perspiration on her upper lip area" and "cheap aroma." "Dinah Moe Humm" is a song about a man trying to win $40 from a girl who bets he can't get her to come. Insistent, almost depressingly professional backing accompanies recitation of doggerel-porn: "I pulled on her hair/ Got her legs in the air/ And asked if she had/ Any cooties in there."

Well, if that doesn't shock you, there is a nice Zappa touch, the characteristic hilarious detail. After winning (but of course), having got the girl off by making it with her sister, he suggests a "discipline" with "a pair of zircon-encrusted tweezers," sterilized with her lighter.

The LP's opener is by far its highlight. If not Zappa at the top of his form, he is at least within it, rhyming "poncho" with "We did it till we were unconcho/ And it was useless anymore." "Camarillo Brillo" is (rare, on Sensation) a good tune, and the arrangement shows Zappa's splendidly organized band to advantage; Zappa's guitar, Ruth Underwood (marimba), George Duke (piano) and Sal Marquez (trumpet) deserve a better album.

"I'm The Slime" lashes out -- hold on to your social consciences -- at television.

"Montana" concerns a dental-floss rancher -- and could have been a great Mothers' ditty.

"Fifty-Fifty" gives the game away. "I'm just crazy enough to sing to you," sings Ricky Lancelotti in a fine vocal, as the band tries working itself into a frenzy that might belie the lyrics. A jazz interlude, accomplished and pleasant in a soundtrack sort of way, degenerates into what must now be for Zappa a rote exercise in feedback. Lancelotti continues: "I figure the odds be fifty-fifty/ I just might have something to say."

That, unlike the bet with Dinah, Zappa doesn't take.

- Arthur Schmidt, Rolling Stone, 12/20/73.

Bonus Reviews!

The world is probably full of latent Zappaphiles, those who through one pass of fate or another have never been made aware of Frank Zappa's zircon-encrusted groove of rancid madness. For these benighted folk, the place to start is not with an abortive magnum opus such as 200 Motels but with Over-nite Sensation, a happy return to yesteryear, like raising dental floss and fucking. The latter always occurs in the most bizarre circumstances, as it does in "Camarillo Brillo," a touching encounter with a Magic Momma who breeds dwarfs, throws a mean tarot and has a "fuming incense stencher": "She stripped away/ Her rancid poncho/ An' laid out naked by the door/ We did it till we were un-concho/ An' it was useless anymore." "Dinah-Moe Humm" and "Dirty Love" are perhaps the highlights in this collection of Frank's freaks, which is, as we said, a good place for the uninitiated to begin.

- Playboy, 1/74.

The Firesign Theater once recorded an album entitled We're All Bozos on This Bus. For whatever it's worth, they're all bozos on this album. Zappa has sunk to new lows in sophmoric attempts at humor on this mother of an album, and has all but abandoned any interest in creative melody. The tunes are average rockers with the vocals pushed way up, accenting the inane lyricism rather than the inane instrumentation. With lines like "So I pulled her hair/Got her legs in the air/An' asked her if she had any cooties there" this album should be an instant hit with the long trenchcoat crowd. Hey, little girl wanna piece of candy and an old Mothers album?

- Ed Naha, Circus, 1/74.

Oh, I get it -- the soft-core porn is there to contextualize the serious stuff. Oh, I get it -- the automatic solos are there to undercut the serious stuff. Oh, I get it -- the marimbas are there to mock-trivialize the serious stuff. But where's the serious stuff? C

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

This is actually Zappa's first new studio album of vocal music since 1970, and it finds him with another edition of Mothers (from this point, Mothers group albums and Zappa albums become indistinguishable), this time taking the lead vocals himself and writing a new set of catchy, satiric rock-pop songs like "Camarillo Brillo" and "Montana." * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Frank Zappa combined satire and sexual innuendo with classically informed heavy rock, creating a formula few could copy (though Primus and Ween tried). Over-Nite Sensation includes some of Zappa's most enduring singles, such as "Camarillo Brillo" and "Montana," about moving out West to grow dental floss.

- Evan Serpick, Entertainment Weekly, 7/11/03.

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