Review Summary: "Touring makes you crazy" and so this double album.
Frank Zappa's soundtrack to his 200 Motels
, a surrealist music documentary about the crazy life on the road as a rock musician featuring Ringo Starr, Theodore Bikel and Keith Moon, was mostly composed in motel rooms while on tour with The Mothers of Invention
, although some of it was later written. The album, like the film, covers a loose storyline about The Mothers of Invention
going crazy in the small town Centerville ("a real nice place to raise your kids up"), with a slightly different selection of music.
Just like the cult film, this hour and a half soundtrack combines some very challenging orchestral work (played by London Philharmonic Orchestra) with humorous spoken word parts from the film and some song-based material with the new Mothers lineup fronted by Flo & Eddie vocal duo (recorded live during the filming, later overdubbed in studio).
The orchestral experiments are interesting but difficult to get into and at some moments quoting Igor Stravinsky
and Edgard Varese
. However, there are some great moments. The "Sealed Tuna Sandwich" theme and "Penis Dimension" are funny and wonderful. The concert favorite "Strictly Genteel", that ends the album, is a classic, although this version is way too long.
As for the songs, they're standard rock music with the sophomoric humor of the Flo & Eddie. "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" and "Magic Fingers" are great songs with some experimental qualities. "Mystery Roach" is decent, but the other pointlessly offensive and sexist material just isn't especially memorable.
All in all, 200 Motels
is the closest thing to average that Zappa ever was, from all 39 tracks, only a dozen are really good. However, it's an intriguing glimpse to Zappa's catalogue, and it does have some funny moments. As for the orchestral music, The Yellow Shark, Boulez Conducts Zappa, or even the two LSO volumes are not only more interesting than this soundtrack and showcase a better standard of performance compared to some tracks present here.