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Frank Zappa - The Perfect Stranger CD (album) cover

THE PERFECT STRANGER

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.57 | 89 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Do you know what Zappa doing classical music really reminds me of? It reminds me of that time in the mid-90's when Michael Jordan spent a year trying to become a major league baseball player. Heaven knows that if anybody in the NBA could have had the raw athletic talent needed to make such a transition at age 30, it was Jordan, yet the fact that he hadn't seriously played baseball in so many years ultimately made his attempt completely futile. Perhaps had he geared his athletic talents towards baseball from an early age, he would have turned out as a fine baseball player, but in the end, he just couldn't do it. With Zappa, I do feel that his overpowering musical talent made him a better candidate for doing 'serious' music on the side than pretty much any other major rock figures, and that had he steered himself in that direction from day one he'd have turned out fine, but as is, his classic stuff sounds (to my fully admittedly untrained ears) awfully amateurish. It's amateurish at a higher level than most other rock musicians could have managed, but given the amount of classical I've listened to from the various "greats," I find it hard to draw any other conclusion.

This album is a bit different from Orchestral Favorites or the London Symphony Orchestra volumes, though. While three of the tracks are performed in a traditional way, by a full orchestra, the other four introduce Frank's new toy, the Synclavier, which is basically a synthesizer into which he could program his compositions and get chimey playback. While does this does indeed mean that Frank would spend much of the rest of his life basically fiddling around on a synthesizer, I actually don't mind this terribly. At the very least, there's a nice dose of novelty value within the idea of classical music that completely removes the human element, plus it's neat to hear Frank almost coming close to ambient at points.

So anyway, the title track pretty much leaves no lasting impression with me despite all of its noisy clatter, which is a problem given its length of nearly 13 minutes. I do kinda like "Dupree's Paradise" in this context (it's way better here than as the 20+ minute monstrosity done in the mid-70's), as I can at least feel some drive to it, but "Naval Aviation in Art?" is just a slight expansion of the brief blurb from Orchestral Favorites, and doesn't entertain me much more here than there. Of the synclavier numbers, one ("Love Story") is a throwaway of less than a minute, but the other three are quite nice. "The Girl in the Magnesium Dress" doesn't have any clearly discernable direction, and it indeed just sounds like somebody randomly running fingers up and down a synthesizer, but this time around I find the effect funny; it means that Frank actually took the time to program something that sounded like somebody randomly running fingers up and down a synthesizer. As for the other two, I slightly prefer "Outside Now Again," which is a lovely reinvention of the Joe's Garage original, as it holds a consistent mellow vibe while a prominent synth line plays all around it. The closing "Jonestown" is very close, though, as it is about as good of a depiction of living in a creepy cult compound as I'd imagine could be done; if nothing else, all those *CONK* noises in the background are extremely effective in increasing the tension in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, that's it. If you're a big fan of Zappa's 'serious' music, this is probably a necessity, but even for somebody like me it's an ok listen. And besides: it beats the snot out of Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers album from the same year...

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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