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JAZZ FROM HELL

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Frank Zappa Jazz From Hell album cover
3.49 | 163 ratings | 19 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential


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Studio Album, released in 1986

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Night School (4:47)
2. The Beltway Bandits (3:25)
3. While You Were Art II (7:17)
4. Jazz From Hell (2:58)
5. G-Spot Tornado (3:17)
6. Damp Ankles (3:45)
7. St. Etienne (6:26)
8. Massaggio Galore (2:31)

Total Time: 34:26

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / synclavier, composer, arranger

--------------------
Track 7 - "St. Etienne"

- Frank Zappa / lead guitar
- Steve Vai / rhythm guitar
- Ray White / rhythm guitar
- Tommy Mars / keyboards
- Bobby Martin / keyboards
- Ed Mann / percussion
- Scott Thunes / bass
- Chad Wackerman / drums

Releases information

Rykodisc #RCD 10549

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FRANK ZAPPA Jazz From Hell ratings distribution


3.49
(163 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
17%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(34%)
34%
Good, but non-essential (35%)
35%
Collectors/fans only (10%)
10%
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)
4%

FRANK ZAPPA Jazz From Hell reviews


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by lor68
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars A jazz progressive album, one of the best examples concerning such a great versatility and his creativity as well. There's no a particular track I like to point out, because every song has its own peculiarity and is well worth checking out!!

Recommended!!

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Send comments to lor68 (BETA) | Report this review (#29692) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, April 23, 2004

Review by daveconn
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars "Jazz From Hell" might be the strangest album FRANK ZAPPA ever recorded, and that's really saying something. Composed almost entirely on the Synclavier, the composer has complete control over every sound, which is a very dangerous thing. For the listener, this is like being inside a musical ion collider where hundreds of notes are aimed at each other, some exploding and some simply bouncing harmlessly off the walls. But there's always a method to Frank's madness, isn't there? While I've found this a tough nut to crack, those arty folks at the Grammys apparently deciphered this and named it Best Rock Instrumental performance in 1987. Honestly, I don't think they understood this music any more than I do, but its potential for greatness is frightening -- it's so unique, so complex, so mathematical in its calculated chaos that if history does one day decode this album and find in it a Rosetta stone for some new musical direction, you couldn't credibly argue that you didn't notice it at the time. Toward the end of the album, Frank takes a break from the computer and inserts a typically molten live instrumental featuring his touring band at the time, "St. Etienne." It adds nothing to the ZAPPA legacy, of course, but all work at the Synclavier and no playing live makes for a dull album. The rest of "Jazz From Hell", while fascinating in its extremes, isn't enjoyable on any but the most intellectual of levels. By compounding the chaos usually reserved for Ruth Underwood's solos, to borrow the words of another great guitarist, "It's all too much." In a way, there is a connection between these songs -- and I hesitate to call them that since they don't really begin and end so much as start and stop -- and the work of Klaus Schulze (if you put his records on 45 rpm). The same aggressive and willful percussion, serpentine patterns, and musical conflicts appear in both, although one is designed for meditation and the other for excitation. "Jazz From Hell" is the work of a serious composer, or at the very least a seriously demented composer. It's probably too extreme for all but the most ardent acolytes of FZ, but music like this could turn out to be potable thirty years down the road.

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Send comments to daveconn (BETA) | Report this review (#29694) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Frank Zappa created here a work probably made of 90% Synclavier. Mostly everything, bass, drums, percussions, keyboards are emulated by the Synclavier. This makes very nervous, loaded, complex and dynamic tracks. He partly started this Synclavier trend on the "Perfect stranger" and "Francesco Zappa" albums, and he enriched its bass and percussive digital elements on the "Mothers of prevention" album, which is more representative of the involved sound & style here. The sound is absolutely outstanding, and it almost sounds like MIDI files compositions!!! It may sound dissonant and repulsive for the traditional Zappa's purists, but it remains a solid complex jazzy performance. "While You Were Art II" is absolutely RESTLESS for your both ears: it consists in miscellaneous dissonant & extremely pleasant notes almost coming randomly from both channels: the strength is that everything forms an extraordinary scattered + interlocking combination of synchronized fast sets of notes, partly sounding percussive. "St.Etienne" is the only track to be recorded not using a Synclavier: a crazy paused guitar solo with some accompanying low profile music, like the "Ancient armaments" or "The drowning witch (around the fourth minute)" tracks. "Massaggio Galore" has probably the most complex repetitive sequencer I've never heard; the voices sounds on it are strange. The title for "G-spot tornado" is appropriate: some keyboards remind me a nervous & emotional breathing women! Needless to say that the album is absolutely not accessible, although it received a Grammy Award!

Rating: 4.5 stars

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Send comments to greenback (BETA) | Report this review (#39644) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, July 16, 2005

Review by Alucard
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 'Jazz From Hell' was released in 1986. Zappa was together with Peter Gabriel and Pete Townsend among the first who bought the famous 'Synclavier', a tool permitting him to excecute his music, the way he wanted it without depending on 'the human element'. Except for one track 'Saint Etienne' the record is composed and executed by Zappa on the Synclavier. BTW 'Jazz From Hell', a totally instrumental record, got a sticker for offensive lyrics! Speaking about humour & music!

'Night School' an uptempo track with a twisted 'Zappa rhythm track' and two different piano sounds, play the 'jerky' quick melodic patterns over synth pad chords, followed by the 'The Beltway Bandits' another nervous uptempo track with a horn sound and a marimba (sound) pattern.

'While You Were Art II' a longer track with another series of impossible time signatures, a marimba pattern, beautiful alternating melody lines for clavinet, horn and bassoon (sounds).

'Jazz From Hell' is an adequate title for this track, a ragged rhythm pattern at the edge of collapsing or exploiding into the void with a horn and a flute (sound) giving it some recognizable effect : Yes this is music!

'G-Spot Tornado' a monster hitsingle with a a catchy melody over a quick marimba pattern, some woodwind sounds, one of my favourite Zappa compositions.[ even better in the the version played by the Ensemble Modern on 'Yellow shark']

'Damp Ankles ' introduced by ambient bird and water noise, a minimalistic track with several superposed rhythm patterns and a synth lead sounding like a Toy symphony.

'St. Etienne' is the only non synclavier track recored live (1984/85), a guitar solo with band, with the trademark sheet of sound guitar sound, not unlike the tracks on 'Guitar', but a little misplaced on this record.

'Massaggio Galore' an uptempo track with sampled vocals, that give an an cartoon athmosphere to the track.

A great Zappa record coming close to Zappa's personal conception of composition, but missing the 'human element' and sounding a little stiff sometimes.

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Send comments to Alucard (BETA) | Report this review (#80993) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, June 12, 2006

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Of all of Frank Zappa's synclavier instrumental albums, Jazz From Hell seems to stand alone from the rest. Most of Zappa's synclavier stuff, in my opinion, is rather boring and I find it hard to enjoy when compared to his more contemporary works. But with Jazz From Hell, despite its flaws, has a charm to it that makes it different from the rest of the bunch. An odd note about this album, it is the first (and probably the only) instrumental album to merit a parental advisory warning, most likely for some of the more risque song titles. Anywho, what this album mostly is is Zappa noodling with the synclavier and utilizes a backing group to help flesh out some of the pieces.

In particular, G-Spot Tornado, the title track, and St. Entienne are the highlights of the album. The first is the most recognizable song off the album (and the only synclavier song from this album to get a live rendition, by the Ensemble Modern on the Yellow Shark album). It's teetering synclavier motifs and relentless pace really set the tone for what this album was all about, music that was nearly humanly impossible to play. The title track is a bit more off the wall, with oddly phrased notes and cascading melodies while retaining some sort of cohesion. St. Entienne is the only non-synclavier piece on the album, and it's probably my favorite. It's a classic Zappa guitar solo piece and he really belts out an unforgettable piece.

Jazz from Hell isn't the easiest album to listen to. Some may find it too cold and detached, very unlike a Zappa album, which usually are very lively affairs. However, those who can listen to music that has little potential of ever being played by a human being in terms of sheer density will probably find much to enjoy. I can't say it's near the best Zappa pieces, but it's certainly an interesting record and at the end of the day, pretty solid.

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Send comments to Cygnus X-2 (BETA) | Report this review (#112066) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As the album title implies you might expect that this will be another kind of jazz music or jazz that is played differently. All songs performed here are basically instrumental as is the case with most of jazz music. Most rhythm sections are in straight forward structure with repeated chords. Under modern world this kind of rhythm can be performed through computer programming. "Night School" is a nice instrumental which serves well as album opening. It's basically a straight forward structure with repeated chords textured by percussion effects, demonstrating keyboard as melody maker and soloist augmented with piano. One might be attracted by this track due to its good keyboard work. "The Beltway Bandits" is in a way like an avant-garde song with straight forward structure in a programmed rhythm section. As the opening track, this second track also brings keyboard as melody section. The third track "While you were at it" is much complex in nature and it explores many sound effects from keyboards augmented with percussion. It's quite challenging track. "Jazz From Hell" is almost true a jazz music with many sound improvisations and "weird" sax work. "G-spot Tornado" flows in faster tempo with much complex sound exploration on sound effects produced by keyboards. Bass guitar plays dynamically overlaid by pulsating keyboard sounds. "Damp Ankles" is a slow tempo music with repeated rhythm section accompanying keyboard solo. "St. Etienne" is probably the most accessible track with guitar as main melody. The guitar work is truly stunning backed with jazzy rhythm section. "Massaggio Galore" explores the virtuosity of bass guitar player in rhythm section that accompanies keyboard.

Overall, this album offers unique kind of music which is typical Frank Zappa's music. Do not expect something usual music offers, there are lot of improvisations offered right here. I leave it up to you whether or not to purchase the album. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

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Send comments to Gatot (BETA) | Report this review (#138543) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This is one of my least liked Zappa albums. Composed entirely on the synclavier except for St. Etienne which is a live song ( vehicle for guitar solo) this album is really mechanic and lacks human emotion in my opinion.

The music is very technical as Zappa liked to compose when he knew he didn´t need people to play his songs. There are themes in the songs and especially on the opener Night School and G-Spot Tornado they are very recognizable, but on most of the other songs they get to be rather forgettable.

I am having a hard time reviewing this album, as I don´t like saying anything bad about my mentor Frank Zappa, but with this album I feel he did miss for once. It is a very exciting experiment though and deserves praise for that. But I think Jazz from Hell is only for collectors and I wan´t really recommend this to anyone else than Zappa completists like myself.

People into avant garde should try it out though ( you probably already have).

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#150379) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, November 12, 2007

Review by MovingPictures07
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The Synclavier: often seen as a completely mechanic, cold computer-like device that is infamous in circles surrounding Zappa's albums that featured it. It certainly is unique, and Zappa liked it for the fact that he didn't have to work with other people in his composing at the very least and also for its range of sounds and capabilities. This album actually won a Grammy back in the day for instrumental performance. Looks like they actually got something right for once.

1. Night School- Absolute brilliance. Wonderful Zappa composition with all of his usual quirks and amazing skills, except all on the Synclavier. It gives the piece an incredibly unique sound and I love it to death. I could listen to this one over and over, but maybe that's just me. 10/10

2. The Beltway Bandits- If you thought the last composition was strange, just wait until you hear this one. With even more extremely odd sounds and dissonance, Zappa certainly elucidates that this music is indeed from hell. This has a very insane/asylum feel to it, but as Zappa often manages to do, I think it works very well. The genius of his composing never ceases to amaze me, even on albums like this which are often way too overlooked. 9/10

3. While You Were Art II- Almost as long as the previous two songs combined, this is more of the Synclavier. If you thought it would go away, remember that this is Zappa and think again. This piece is not near as chaotic with constant notes as the previous two songs. Combine that with its length and the aspect of being ALL Synclavier, it is undeniably a well-composed piece. It can drag, however, especially if you're not in the mood for it. 7/10

4. Jazz from Hell- Somewhat similar in mood to the previous song, my feelings about the title track are not unlike it. It is a greatly composed piece, as usual, but it seems that Zappa's Synclavier compositions work much more efficiently when the songs are filled more to the brim with quirkiness rather than taking a step back from an onslaught of notes. Still good, but can drag, and the previous song was a BIT better for my taste. 6/10

5. G-Spot Tornado- Here we go! Things pick up right away again and this one certainly is one of the stranger songs on this album (which says ALOT). This one combines the extreme avant-garde sounds of Beltway Bandits with an even more intense atmosphere. This song is also responsible for the fact that this album is the ONLY instrumental album ever to get a parental advisory rating. Classic. 9/10

6. Damp Ankles- Back to a slower track here It is relatively short, but still almost a minute longer than the title track. You may have to be insane to like this track, much like the rest of the album, but I think it's more effective in its building minimalism than the title track was. Very dark yet still oddly humorous feel to this one. Good, but I think I would get very tired of this song if it lasted any longer. 7/10

7. St. Etienne- Ah, the only Synclavier-less track on the album! I'm sure this one is a breath of fresh air for those who are getting tired of the barrage of mechanical compositions. The placement of this track is welcomed, even for me, and I quite like the Synclavier. Listen to Zappa's guitar work on this one! Stunning and so expressive. 9/10

8. Massaggio Galore- Shortest track yet definitely not the least odd. If you don't question Zappa's insane creative madman tag by now, which you should, then you most likely will with this one. It's a good closer, but not perfect. Well-composed as always. 7/10

Summary...

Get this album if: 1. You like the tag avant-garde 2. You are curious to see what a Synclaiver sounds like 3. You are insane 4. You are already well-introduced to Zappa's other more acclaimed works and are willing to take a risk on something that is still creative, typical Zappa, yet entirely new

Don't get this album if: 1. You are closed-minded 2. You cannot stand dissonance 3. You cannot stand 80s production or the sound of a Synclavier

However, if you're willing to take a plunge, this reviewer says go for it. This is definitely an excellent addition to a progger's collection. Just be prepared for wackiness!

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Send comments to MovingPictures07 (BETA) | Report this review (#188719) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, November 10, 2008

Review by Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars I can only hope that Frank Zappa meant this oddball novelty album as a parody, maybe of the self-indulgent virtuosity driving much of Prog Rock (try to play this, Mr. Wakeman!) But after learning more about the man it's clear he must have wanted it taken seriously.

The result is automated computer music from a misanthropic genius and notorious control freak, trying to compose impossibly complex music without the distraction of human involvement, typically the one thing that gives music its life. The album was created entirely by Zappa on the newest toy in his basement studio: the Synclavier, a digital sampler sold at the time as the next step in musical evolution.

Whatever else it might be, the music here sure ain't Jazz (or Rock, for that matter). All the hyperactive pre-programmed ostinatos are related instead to the dodecaphonic serialism of Varèse, Schoenberg, and the avant-garde heroes of Zappa's precocious adolescence. It's certainly a unique experience (who would expect anything less from Uncle Frank?), but the album is also unlistenable for much of its (thankfully brief) 34-minute length.

Even more frustrating is how such supposedly impossible-to-play music could in fact have been performed by several Zappa bandmates. You can't tell me that STEVE VAI or ADRIAN BELEW couldn't have mastered even the adrenalin overdose of 'G-Spot Tornado', later adapted by Ensemble Modern on Zappa's final orchestral project, 'The Yellow Shark'.

And why include on the same disc a four-year old live recording with an eight-piece band? This one track ('St. Etienne', recorded on tour in France in 1982) stands out like a happily sore thumb, undermining the promise of the Synclavier and making the balance of the album sound even more sterile than it already is.

An unreconstructed social misfit like Zappa must have had a good laugh when the album earned a Grammy Award, for (believe it or not) 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance'. I like to imagine his acerbic response: "the suckers probably don't even know the whole thing was programmed!" (...although he probably would have used another word rhyming with 'suckers').

Practical joke or sober post-modern experiment, 'Jazz From Hell' certainly deserves to be heard at least once, especially for students of such an idiosyncratic talent. Whether it's worth playing a second time is still open to debate.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#231967) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I agree-it is not very usual FZ album. But - if you are starting to listen FZ, do you expecting to hear some usual things?

For the beginning I want to say, that when I listened this album first time ( many years ago), I was shocked, hypnotised and ... renew my interest to real jazz once again.

Yes, it's different, but is it really so different? I believe, that readers of "Cosmopolitan"magazine will accept it with big difficulties, but why this album is so strange for PA readers? There for sure are many more strange and difficult-to-accept albums on this site!

As for me, I think we should be happy, that someone produced something, that is little bit different from what you are waiting to hear. I am really very happy with it, because I honestly think, that we always need a fresh air between myriads of classical sweet-boring sympho-rock albums you heavily could listen till the song 3...

Very recommended to listeners with hot hearts, fresh heads and interest for real prog music, no old boring cliches.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#234994) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars Frank Zappa found the perfect band to play his difficult compositions. It's called his Synclavier.

Don't let the fact that this album woke the Grammy voters from their self congratulatory stupor long enough to give Zappa the award for best instrumental album, This is not the mainstream pap that usually gets lauded by "The Academy". This is very complex, and very entertaining, and completely impossible to categorize music. Zappa calls it "Jazz From Hell", but there is no improvisation it it. I would probably say that it is closer to classical than anything else, but even that doesn't say much.

Frank's personality is all over the music. The odd timing, chord structure, and even some of his guitar phrasing come through in the pieces.

The one oddball is St. Etienne, a guitar solo taken from one of his live concerts. Honestly, I would have rather had more Synclavier.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#388809) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011

Review by tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This has to be one of the most misleading album titles ever. With the title Jazz From Hell, and a listed lineup with many of the same people as on albums like Them or Us, you'd expect a lot of noisy jazz fusion. Instead, only one track, "St. Etienne," features the live lineup listed in the liner notes. It's a nice instrumental bit taken from a 1982 performance (of "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch"), and Zappa's expressive guitar playing has mood and atmosphere to spare. The other instrumentalists don't do much outside of a pure supporting role, and the track feels like it would have just gotten thrown into the Guitar release had it not been put here, but it's a real treat.

The rest of the album, somewhat shockingly, is all Synclavier compositions, showing Zappa's greatest committment to the instrument yet. Seven tracks of this strikes me as a little monotonous, and I don't find all of them that entertaining, but there are some tracks on here that I like a lot. In particular, I'm fond of "G-Spot Tornado," where the main "melody" line is just so wild and bizarre, and the synthetic bass and percussion work so well with it, that I can't help but see it as one of Zappa's best instrumentals. I'm also rather fond of the opening "Night School," which has some elements of 80's adult pop, but which also has some very screwy melody ideas that sound like quintessential Zappa. The title track sounds like a dark synthetic version of a 1970-era instrumental, and the closing "Massagio Galore" is just so awkward and bizarre that it ends up with a lot of power.

The other three tracks don't interest me a lot (one of them, "While You Were Art II," is apparently a transcription of an old Shut Up N' Play Yer Guitar track, but at 7 minutes even that novelty doesn't keep my interest forever), but they're ok. They kinda sound to me like outtakes from the Mothers of Prevention sessions, though I could be all wet on that. Anyway, if you're allergic to the Synclavier, you'll obviously want to avoid this, but it's a worthwhile purchase otherwise.

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#412472) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, March 07, 2011

Latest members reviews

4 stars "JAZZ FROM HELL". The title alone is enough to pique any normal record buyer's interest. So I bought it, knowing full well of the bumpy ride ahead of me. It IS FZ, y'know; so it ain't gonna be no sugar-coated pop music. Knowing that, I threw it on. I was expecting ANYTHING but what I hea ... (read more)

Report this review (#232067) | Posted by nahnite | Sunday, August 16, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Masterpiece, and ditto to the positive things mentioned on this album. G-Spot Tornado and Night School are just so enjoyable to listen to. St.Etienne is a very nice Zappa solo. His toned down solos reflect his health at the time, and as the 80's passed he was more and more unable to play due ... (read more)

Report this review (#85620) | Posted by BaboonSweat | Thursday, August 03, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Otherwise known as: Zappa discovers the Synclavier and noodles around on it for a half hour without realizing it's recording. ..And that's just about it. The compositions on Jazz from Hell (except for one major variance) amount to a seemingly random flurry of synthesizer solos over mostly bla ... (read more)

Report this review (#85450) | Posted by stonebeard | Wednesday, August 02, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars well, this one is one of Zappa's finest (with that many albums out, you can't just have ONE nice album...), and i won't say much about this one, except that mabe is one that will keep surprising you even after you can remember all of the songs backwards in your mind However, the greatest th ... (read more)

Report this review (#45090) | Posted by | Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Yes this album is a masterpiece, though a sadly neglected one at that.... completeley unlike anything before or after this is Zappa writing the music he wants without the constraints of human performers. That said, it takes a few listens - but most works of real genius do. From the wacky opt ... (read more)

Report this review (#29697) | Posted by | Tuesday, May 31, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is certainly a strange one, but if you have any appreciation of what Zappa was about, and want to be challenged, rather than pandered to or placated, then you will not regret purchasing this. The production is very clean and electronic sounding (all but one track are the products of FZ's ... (read more)

Report this review (#29696) | Posted by | Monday, March 07, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars An electronic masterpiece, one of the best records ever made in the eighties, a concept album that broke the line and end up receiving a grammy award. This album expreses the itchy mind of Zappa toward the next century, after these, many bands "stole" the sound of the master. A note... the album lin ... (read more)

Report this review (#29691) | Posted by | Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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