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THE PERFECT STRANGER

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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andy@a-stenho
5 stars If you like modern classical music; this is the best! (if you don't, then it sucks). Mr Boulez does a fine job of conducting the 3 tracks played by the Ensemble InterContemporain, the rest are Frank on the Synclavier. If this does not turn doubters on to Modern Music then nothing will; up there with "The Yellow Shark" and "Civilisation Phase III". Zappa was a true genius, and this shows him at his avant garde best.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#29635)
Posted Saturday, April 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is contemporary classical music. There are strings and brass arrangements; the overall mood is very dark and scary, and the tracks are not accessible at all. The record is purely instrumental. "Dupree's paradise" is very nervous and dynamic, and if you like the "Orchestral favorites" album, then you should like this record. "Jonestown" is the scariest song I have ever listened: do not listen to it alone in the dark. There is the presence of the famous Synclavier, which gives a really modern, perfect and crystal clear sound. It would have made a really good horror movie soundtrack.

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Send comments to greenback (BETA) | Report this review (#39638)
Posted Saturday, July 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The Perfect Stranger is one of Zappa's most renowned classical works. Conducted by one of his favorite composers, Pierre Boulez, and performed by the Barking Pumpkin Orchestra, this collection explores some of Zappa's denser and more difficult orchestral works with a bit of synclavier thrown into the mix for good measure. I can't say it's his best, but it really strikes a chord with me and while not up to the quality of The Yellow Shark, there are some really great pieces here that are some of the best classical Zappa works.

The opener sets the entire tone for the album, dominant brass and percussion, understated woodwinds and strings, but all in all, it's got the Zappa touch to it and has all the identifiable qualities that can be found in a Zappa classical piece. Of the Synclavier tracks, my favorite is probably The Girl in the Magnesium Dress, which is more or less a workout of the Marimba and the lovely sound that emanates creates a mellow yet tense atmosphere that can be found on many of the songs. Also included here is Dupree's Paradise, which has been one of Zappa's oldest pieces and has gotten many different renditions. This version isn't so bad, I just think the Stage Vol. 2 version is the premiere recording of that piece.

Overall, if you like the classical Zappa, then this album is a no-brainer for you. If you're not too receptive, check out The Yellow Shark first, and if you liked what you heard there, proceed with this one. There are many Zappa classical albums, and this is among the best of them. It's very good, but at the end of the day I can't really call it essential.

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Send comments to Cygnus X-2 (BETA) | Report this review (#112154)
Posted Thursday, February 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This album only confirms what a musical genius Frank Zappa really was. The fact that he composed all these songs is amazing. This album was on the Classical charts for almost a year and it was nominated for a Grammy for best new classical work. World renown composer Pierre Boulez conducted the first two songs and the fourth track as well. The music here isn't full blown orchestral Classical music but is really Chamber music that allows us to hear each of the instruments as they come and go at a slower pace.The instruments have room to breathe as different stringed instruments, horns and percussion create dark sounds with little in the way of melody. This is an all instrumental affair and is very serious except for the name of Frank's ensemble called THE BARKING PUMPKIN DIGITAL CONSORT which he says recorded these songs at THE UTILITY MUFFIN RESEARCH KITCHEN. Hahaha.

"The Perfect Stranger" is the longest track and is very dark and wonderfully done. I can't tell you how much I enjoy this song. It's so intricate, and to just really listen to it is very rewarding. "Naval Aviation In Art ?" is much like the first song but with even less going on, and a lot shorter. "The Girl In The Magnesium Dress" is a spooky track with lots of what sounds like xylophone. "Dupree's Paradise" is brighter sounding with piano and a dramatic finish. "Love Story" is less than a minute in length but is a very cool sounding tune.

"Outside Now Again" is my favourite song on this record. It almost sounds like an upright bass thumping along with light keys along for the ride. Sounds like flute as well in a song that is quite different from the rest. It's different because it's actually spacey sounding as it drifts along. Nice. "Jonestown" is another good one. This song is kind of creepy with different sounds coming and going. It's like a horror movie soundtrack really. Much like the title track but darker and more frightening.

I will be checking out "Yellow Shark" now for sure after enjoying this so much. And maybe "200 Motels" both of which are supposed to be Classical music much like this excellent release.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#135668)
Posted Saturday, September 01, 2007 | Review Permalink
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...

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#385862)
Posted Monday, January 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars This album represents Frank Zappa's most serious classical release. It was even originally released on EMI's Angel records, one of the most distinguished classical labels. Zappa was also fortunate enough to have Pierre Boulez, a remarkable composer himself, commission the title piece, and conduct the Ensemble InterContemporain for three of the albums seven pieces (the rest were played by Zappa himself on his Synclavier).

The sound of the recording is exquisite. It helps to have an orchestra that was serious about playing Frank's music (as opposed to the hackneyed attitude of the London Symphony Orchestra on the two albums they recorded). The instruments all sound crystal clear as they navigate Zappa's difficult material.

The title track is the best piece. The music is dark and beautiful at the same time. While Zappa still shows his Stravinsky influence, he was really developing his own compositional style as well. One thing that astonishes me is that I can hear his guitar phrasing is many of the passages.

Most of the Synclavier pieces are similar to those on "Jazz From Hell" and other FZ albums of the time, but Jonestown (referring to the mass suicide/murder of a religious cult by their insane leader) stands out as one of the darkest pieces Zappa has ever written.

My only complaint is that this album, at 36 minutes, is much too short.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#433744)
Posted Thursday, April 14, 2011 | Review Permalink

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