Over-Nite Sensation

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1973


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Over-Nite Sensation marked possibly the height of Frank Zappa's popularity, at least in terms of sales. Coming off a year he spent in a wheelchair (thanks to a "fan" pushing him off a London stage in 1971), Zappa marked his return as a lead singer (albeit an octave lower than before the attack) by taking the lessons learned from the "Flo & Eddie" period of the Mothers Of Invention - namely, the sophomoric sex humor - and milking it for every drop it was worth. (And, despite what the venerable All-Music Guide claims, this was not a Mothers album; even Zappa's own website credits this one solely to Zappa.)

Yet, despite the increase in sales - this became Zappa's first gold album - Over-Nite Sensation can't shake a feeling of tentativeness about it. Even though this disc has some of Zappa's most notable concert favorites, such as "Camarillo Brillo" and "Dinah Moe-Humm," it really sounds like Zappa wasn't quite sure that this was the way he wanted to take his music. Unlike what he'd produce one album later on Apostrophe ('), Over-Nite Sensation is the musical equivalent of sticking one's toe into the water to gauge the climate.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's kind of a shame, really. Sonically, Zappa was applying the lessons he had learned on The Grand Wazoo that would help him create a truly full-sounding band, though he now replaced some of the instrumentation with his own lead vocals. But the vehicles with which he tries to deliver the goods just don't have the horsepower. Take "Dirty Love," a track which became legendary in concert. The tempo on this one is far too plodding to deliver the smirking vocals the right way, and the crispness of the instruments - especially in the opening riff - just isn't there. Or, for an experience that is the musical equivalent of falling flat on your face, check out "Fifty-Fifty," undoubtedly the worst song on the disc.

This isn't to say that there is no hope to the disc. "I'm The Slime," Zappa's slam against television, does have the finesse and power to get the message across, and is one of the best efforts on the disc. The other track that shares the honor is "Zomby Woof," one of Zappa's under-rated numbers.

But, the Zappa freaks shout, surely I haven't forgotten about "Montana"? Well, the truth is that I've never particularly been enamored with the story of the wanna-be dental floss rancher, and the original version doesn't add (or, for that matter, subtract) anything to my opinion of the track. It just seemed, to me, to be one of Zappa's "silly-for-the-sake-of-being-silly" numbers that was far too plodding to really have any substance. Oh, well - to each their own.

As for the sexual wordplay, both "Dinah Moe-Humm" and "Camarillo Brillo" have enough, both hidden and out in the open, to send Tipper Gore into conniptions, but years of hearing these tracks done in live recordings almost make me immune to them. Still, like many of the tracks on Over-Nite Sensation, they seem to lack the punch they need.

Saying anything negative about Over-Nite Sensation, one of Zappa's critically praised albums, is akin to mooning when the Popemobile drives by, I realize. But ever since I picked up my long-destroyed first cassette of Apostrophe ('), Over-Nite Sensation has lived in its shadow. I like to think that Over-Nite Sensation gave Zappa the confidence he needed to really push the musical envelope forward. But that still left this so-so disc spinning its wheels in the mud.

2005 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault." All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: C

User Rating: A-



© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.