Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekly Dose of Prog: Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (')/Over-Nite Sensation

So I haven't been keeping up with my progressive music and writings. This week has been hectic with doubles at work, dealing with the government and being sick, so instead of writing a Weekly Dose of Prog about some new artist I found, I'm going into the classic range, with Frank Zappa's double album (complied such in the era of CDs anyway), Apostrophe (')/Over-Nite Sensation.

Keeping with the usual eclectic Zappa theme, Apostrophe (')/Over-Nite Sensation, is an experimental/avant-garde/progressive mess - in all the right ways. The songs vary wildly in style, composition, tempo, and thought pattern, and truly the only thing keeping the album together is the complete disharmony within the tracks themselves; they are so uncollected, that they fit together perfectly. What intrigues me most about the album is the title. You see Over-Nite Sensation was released a year prior to Apostrophe (') so I don't know why on the re-issue they would reverse not only the titles but the song numbering as well. Maybe it sounded better this way, as The Saga of Nanook of The North is a great opener, but truly I don't know, and probably never will.

The album begins (backwardly as I've stated above) with the loosely-related four-part piece I like to call 'The Saga of Nanook of The North.' I don't know if there is any official title of the work, but as the story line follows Nanook (at least for the first three parts) and he was titled 'Nanook of The North' at one point in the song "Nanook Rubs It," I think it's fitting. The four songs that make up this 'rock opera' are "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" (a favorite of my father's), "Nanook Rubs It," "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast," and "Father O'Blivion," coming in - combined - at close to eleven minutes. Even within this short time-frame, the musical styles go from a semi-atmospheric vocal-and-piano medley (mostly) and finish out well within a raucous, full-band rock n' roll song. The (loose) story there within, is of Nanook, first heeding his mother's advice ("Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow"), then to his conflict with a fur trapper ("Who was strictly commercial") who was "whippin'" on his favorite baby seal ("With a lead-filled snow shoe"). After that the fur trapper (who was blinded by his encounter with Nanook) heads to "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast" to look for a cure for his sudden blindness. Somewhere along here I lose the story line, which then leads into a song about the amazing pancakes that "Father O'Blivion" makes (also with a subversive few lines about an erection and a midget - Zappa was a weird man). Thus ending 'The Saga of Nanook of The North' even though we never hear from Nanook after the second song... I guess my title needs some work. Supposedly there is a secret, fifth section to the increasingly incorrect named saga, based off of rumors and the fact that the end of "Father O'Blivion" seems to lead into another piece. But seeing as it's been almost forty years and the man himself has been dead for almost twenty years... it seems unlikely.
After this epic song collection, the rest of Apostrophe (') (remember it was first) is more akin to other releases by Frank Zappa; "Cosmik Debris" is a funk-laden space rock song, with some grooving melodies and quick transitions, and "Stink-Foot" is another crack at the odd humor that so afflicts his music (for the better always). The rest of Apostrophe (') moves between instrumental/mostly-instrumental spacy pieces, always with a bit of humor thrown in.

The second half of the album (or part two of the double album), Over-Nite Sensation, is a lot more fine-tuned in scope, compared to the first half, but it doesn't loose anything due to this. These songs are more rock-oriented, still full of progressive/avant-garde stuff, but more rooted in straight-forward rock and even some jazz, soul and funk.
"Camarillo Brillo," "Fifty-Fifty" and "Montana" are all examples of the genius of the composer that was Frank Zappa; often the songs shift randomly between sections, flowing between styles like they were a river, mashing up sounds as if they were supposed to be there. "Montana" in particular is something to behold, it doesn't contain a normal song structure, opting for a seemingly random sound from beginning to end, with different genres mixed in (most notably the soul of Tina Turner, who sung some of the background vocals).
On the other end of the spectrum, songs "Dirty Love," "Zomby Woof," and "Dinah-Moe Humm" all use grooving melodies and guitar work to convey their somewhat-raunchy message. All tied around love and lust, these songs are the kind of songs where you need to hear them half-a-dozen times to grasp even half of their full meaning. I laugh every time I listen to "Dinah-Moe Humm," by far the most straight-forward - and most in-your-face dirty. It's a story of a boy in love... well no it's not, more like a boy in lust. I will let you go and listen to this one, it'll take way to long to describe it in enough detail.

The whole double-album is a world-class affair into what it means to be the forerunner of experimental music, without going off the deep end (I know Frank Zappa played jumprope with that line, but he pulled it off most times fairly well). Apostrophe (')/Over-Nite Sensation is an album that I was raised on; I remember many a drive with my father laughing our asses off to Nanook's adventures (of course me being too young at the time to get all the meanings of "Zomby Woof" and "Dinah-Moe Humm"). This album still get's heavy rotation on my iPod, and it by far my favorite release by Mr. Zappa - although I have not heard all of this works yet, so this may change. I would suggest this dual-set to any fan of classic rock, out-there humor in music, or anyone into prog/experimental/avant-garde in any of its forms.

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