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Frank Zappa Civilization Phaze III album cover
3.75 | 167 ratings | 14 reviews | 30% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1994

Songs / Tracks Listing

Disc 1 (56:10)
- ACT I -
1. "This is Phaze III" (0:48)
2. Put a Motor In Yourself (5:14)
3. "Oh-Umm" (0:50)
4. They Made Me Eat It (1:48)
5. Reagan at Bitburg (5:39)
6. "A Very Nice Body" (1:00)
7. Navanax (1:40)
8. "How the Pigs' Music Works" (1:49)
9. Xmas Values (5:31)
10. "Dark Water!" (0:23)
11. Amnerika (3:04)
12. "Have You Ever Heard Their Band?" (0:38)
13. Religious Superstition (0:43)
14. "Saliva Can Only Take So Much" (0:28)
15. Buffalo Voice (5:12)
16. "Someplace Else Right Now" (0:33)
17. Get a Life (2:21)
18. "A Kayak (On Snow)" (0:29)
19. N-Lite (18:00)
- a. Negative Light
- b. Venice Summerged
- c. The New World Order
- d. The Lifestyle You Deserve
- e. Creationism
- f. He Is Risen

Disc 2 (57:39)
- ACT II -
1. "I Wish Motorhead Would Come Back" (0:14)
2. Secular Humanism (2:41)
3. "Attack! Attack! Attack!" (1:25)
4. I Was In A Drum (3:38)
5. "A Different Octave" (0:58)
6. "This Ain´t CNN" (3:21)
7. "The Pigs´ Music" (1:18)
8. A Pig With Wings (2:52)
9. "Tis Is All Wrong" (1:43)
10. Hot & Putrid (0:29)
11. "Flowing Inside-Out" (0:46)
12. "I Had A Dream About That" (0:28)
13. Gross Man (2:55)
14. "A Tunnel Into Muck" (0:21)
15. Why Not? (2:19)
16. "Put A Little Motor In ´Em" (0:51)
17. You´re Just Insultin´ Me, Aren´t You!" (2:13)
18. "Cold Light Generation" (0:44)
19. Dio Fa (8:19)
20. "That Would Be The End Of That" (0:36)
21. Beat The Reaper (15:23)
22. Waffenspiel (4:05)

Total Time: 113:49

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / synclavier (all Act I & 70% Act II), voice (1967), composer, conductor, producer, compiler & editor

- Spider Barbour / voice (1967)
- All-Night John / voice (1967)
- Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood (a.k.a. Larry Fanoga) / voice (1967)
- Roy Estrada / voice (1967)
- Louis "The Turkey" Cuneo / voice (1967)
- Monica / voice (1967)
- Gilly Townley / voice (1967)
- Unknown Girl #1 / voice (1967)
- Unknown Girl #2 / voice (1967)
- Moon Unit Zappa / voice (1991)
- Dweezil Zappa / voice (1991)
- Michael Rappaport / voice (1991)
- Ali N. Askin / voice (1991)
- Walt Fowler / voice (1991)
- Todd Yvega / voice (1991)

Ensemble Modern sampled instrumentations (from 1992 European tour):
- Peter Rundel / violin 1 & conductor
- Catherine Milliken / * , oboe, english horn, baritone oboe, didjeridoo
- Michael Svoboda / * , bass trombone, alp horn, didjeridoo, conch
- Michael Gross / * , trumpet, fleugel horn
- William Formann / * , trumpet, fleugel horn
- Uwe Dierksen / * , trombone, pygmy trombone
- Stefan Dohr / * , french horn
- Daryl Smith / * , tuba
- Franck Ollu / * , french horn
- Hermann Kretzschmar / * , piano, celeste
- Dietmar Weisner / piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass flute
- Roland Diry / clarinet
- Wolfgang Styri / tenor sax, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet
- Veit Scholz / bassoon, contabassoon
- Mathias Tacke / violin 2
- Hilary Sturt / viola
- Friedemann Dähn / cello
- Thomas Fichter / contrabass, electric bass
- Detlef Tewes / mandolin
- Jürgen Ruck / guitar, banjo
- Ueli Wiget / harp
- Rumi Ogawa-Helferich / cymbalom, percussion
- Rainer Römer / musical saw, percussion
- Andreas Böttger / marimba, percussion

(* And also voice 1991)

Releases information

Artwork: Uri Balashov (design) with Command A Studios (art direction)

2xCD Zappa Records ‎- CDDZAP 56 (1994, UK)
2xCD Barking Pumpkin Records ‎- UMRK 01 (1994, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy FRANK ZAPPA Civilization Phaze III Music

FRANK ZAPPA Civilization Phaze III ratings distribution

(167 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(30%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(27%)
Good, but non-essential (27%)
Collectors/fans only (12%)
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)

FRANK ZAPPA Civilization Phaze III reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars Wow , what a fabulous looking object . I bought that second hand two months after it came out so the previous owner probably had not given a second chance , but I can see ( or hear ) why. This is among the most experimental music Zappa has ever made . Most of this stuff was recorded INSIDE a piano (vocals included) and this is downright weird. I shall not tthrow the stone at my predecessor on this CD because I got rid of it two months ago (looking for shelf space) after one last try (the eighth in in ten years). Only for Music Scientist.
Review by fuxi
3 stars There are several Frank Zappas. There's a Zappa who wrote zany rock operas, a Zappa who recorded doo-wop pastiches, a Zappa who played superb jazz-rock, a Zappa who wrote angry protest songs, a Zappa who wrote avant-garde music for orchestras, and several more. Many of Zappa's albums are easy to enjoy the first time you hear them, but CIVILIZATION PHAZE III sounds frightening. I bought it as soon as it came out, and I don't think I've played it five times since then. Nevertheless, it's a kind of masterpiece.

The compositions Zappa wrote and performed on synclavier for this album bear a remarkable resemblance to the work of Olivier Messiaen, one of the greatest 20th century composers. To the average reader they'll sound like random tinkling, but they possess an abstract beauty of their own. The question is how often you'll feel the inclination to listen to them. Messiaen had strong religious beliefs, and his 'tinkling' is meant as a celebration of life − it gets very ecstatic at times. With Zappa, religious belief is missing, and when he constructs a climactic piece ('Beat the Reaper') by combining synclavier with eerie sound effects, the result is deeply pessimistic.

Fortunately, the pessimistic nature of CIVILIZATION PHAZE III is mitigated by Zappa's absurd voice collages, which have a wonderfully comic effect - even though I'm not sure if they were intended that way. Deadpan utterances by Germans ("Telefonkarte. Qualitat und Sicherheit aus einer Hand!"), Italians and even Flemings ("Die spreekt geen normaal taal!") were stapled together, as it were, in a rhapsodic sort of way, but the prize for the craziest contributions goes to Spider Barbour, whose bizarre enunciations had been recorded as long ago as 1967.

Not for the faint-hearted, but essential to all Zappaphiles!

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars If you are just a casual Frank Zappa fan, be warned. This album is not like anything else in his catalog. Sure, it has voices recorded from inside of a piano, like on "Lumpy Gravy", even some voices from that recording session. And there is Synclavier like on "Jazz From Hell". So while there is a tenuous resemblance to those two albums, the music is entirely unique. There is no rock music on the album whatsoever. it is all an acoustic and electronic blend of Zappa's classical music compositional style, with a nod to many of the late master's idols, like Varese, Stravinsky and Messaien.

Despite the lack of traditional structure in every piece, there is an amazing sort of cohesiveness that makes it impossible to stop listening. In this, Zappa proves once and for all that he was one of the musical geniuses of the twentieth century.

Review by tarkus1980
3 stars This is the strangest album I've ever heard in my life. Now, it is true that my tastes, despite the fact that they aren't 100% mainstream, don't trend towards the extremely "out there" or avant-garde, so my observation along these lines should probably be taken with a grain of salt. I'm sure that many musicians have made albums that go beyond the bounds of, um, eccentricity that are set with this album, and that somewhere somebody could name me a dozen albums more "far out" than this one without breaking a mental sweat. Just know that, within the bounds of my collection, this is the strangest album I've ever come across, and it's definitely the strangest Frank Zappa album.

And yes, that means it's stranger than Lumpy Gravy. The thing about Lumpy Gravy's weirdness is that it was so all over the place that, ironically, it became easier to categorize its approach than if it had been more centralized. If this doesn't make sense, imagine, if you will, a crazy homeless person who stands on a street corner speaking all sorts of nonsense to anybody who'll come by and listen. If the person talks about really ridiculous things, then at first the person will seem strange and interesting. If the person then changes topics completely every two minutes or so, though, the effect will subside, and soon the overall reaction will settle on, "Oh, it's just another crazy homeless person." On the other hand, let's say the person, within his insane babblings, actually manages to create something that, at least in some ways, vaguely resembles something with a coherent narrative. In this scenario, your mind would be more likely to keep some focus on all of the insane stuff coming out of the person's mouth, and the effect of the babblings would be much more pointed. Essentially, you would have before you a sensible crazy person, and this would certainly seem to me a much odder and more compelling case than somebody babbling about anything under the sun with no shape or form.

The album is essentially two albums running in parallel to each other. One is relatively straight forward: it consists of a bunch of new classical compositions, mostly programmed into the Synclavier, with Ensemble Modern contributing some performances on the second disc. The second, then, is not so straight forward. It consists of voice recordings from 1967 (the same general set of recordings from which the conversations on Lumpy Gravy were extracted) and 1991, done by people speaking into a recording device inside a piano. The voice recordings, based on cues that Zappa would give from the control room, are rearranged into a story involving people who live inside a piano, have been living inside the piano since forever, discover that there are pigs and ponies living somewhere inside the same piano, and some other various things. The "story" (and it really isn't even that) is complete nonsense (and incredibly bizarre: I really don't think that I can properly relate how strange I think it is), but it's strangely fascinating nonsense, and it's fun to have it pop up repeatedly between the classical recordings. It really drives home to me that the main thing missing from Lumpy Gravy was something resembling a tangible, continuous thread: the thread here may be the strangest idea ever, but at least it exists, and it makes me want to give this at least a little more of a chance than I did LG.

Then there's the music. I'm really not sure how especially different the music on this album is from the bulk of Yellow Shark. Sure, the bulk of it here is from Synclavier instead of from an orchestra, but it seems more or less the same kind of thing that made up YS. And yet, I think the music here works better than did the music on YS, even if I'd be hardpressed to name any tracks that especially stood out to me for any particular reason. One thing that helps here is that there is definitely a common vibe throughout, one that's kinda bleak and dark and post-apocalyptic (probably because of the use of the Synclaiver, which lends itself to a weird "futurist" feel). Mood aside, while there are certainly a few tracks that lose me very quickly, there are also a number of cases where I find myself getting sucked in (and not repelled) by the complexity of what I'm hearing. If there's a better side-by-side comparison than YS and this of weirdness that's compelling and weirdness that's repelling, I haven't heard it.

Now, I really don't think that anybody but Zappa fans would have use for this: most people would roll their eyes at the ridiculousness of the piano people plot, and likewise most people wouldn't be able to handle the complexity of the compositions. And yet, while this isn't necessary for people who aren't Zappa fans, it's probably essential for any serious Zappa fan. It's very out of print (as of writing), and any copies of it will cost you an arm and a leg, but if you're hardcore enough to have bought The Yellow Shark, you're probably hardcore enough for this.

Review by Warthur
2 stars The final album completed by Zappa in his lifetime sees him returning to Lumpy Gravy and making a piece which is simultaneously a sequel to, expansion of, and key to unlocking the mysteries of that album. With further extracts of the discussions taking place inside the piano that were interspersed through Lumpy Gravy, plus additional piano talk written later on, and musical interludes produced on the Synclavier, at least some of the mythology contained on the former album is explained, which will thrill those addicted to Zappa's "conceptual continuity", but in terms of a pleasant musical experience I'm afraid I have the same problems with this album as I do with most of Zappa's other heavily Synclavier-based pieces.

Specifically, Zappa is clearly trying to very ambitious things with the Synclavier, and the technology just hasn't caught up with him yet. Sure, you can tell what the instruments are meant to be, more or less, but what you get is still an extremely primitive and dated mimicing of said instruments rather than anything you'd ever mistake for the pieces themselves. And frankly, this results in something which sounds more like a rough draft or a guide track for people trying to reproduce this material with real instruments than something to be listened to in its own right. I'd be very interested to hear anyone attempting to reproduce pieces such as Put a Motor In Yourself with real instruments, but I can't listen to the piece as presented here because it just doesn't feel ready for prime time. (To be absolutely clear: I'm not against synthesisers or think that they aren't "real" instruments. But it's very clear to me that here Zappa is using the Synclavier synthesiser as a stand-in for other instruments - in other words, it's Zappa's compositional approach which treats the Synclavier as a substitute for other instruments as opposed to an instrument in its own right.)

In retrospect, it was probably a good thing for Zappa that he discovered the Synclavier since with it he was able to put out a lot of music which, had he waited to produce it with the instruments it was actually composed for, he might not have been able to accomplish in his lifetime. But the end result is still not an album which I can take any pleasure from listening to.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars What I seem to find is that most Rock-in-Opposition music is so closely related to 20th Century Classical music. That is what this album is, for want of trying to describe it. This is the last album FZ was working on. In fact, he died before it's completion and release. But this type of music was the music he wanted to produce. He was a genius in the fact that he understood classical music and I think it was a constant frustration to him that so many people did not understand it. He had his contemporaries, his favorite composers if you will, that he followed just like composers of classical music were always "students" of the famous composers of their own times. Just because they learned the style and techniques doesn't mean they copied them. Usually, the best composers added to the styles, stretched them to other limits, and that is how music progresses and changes over time. FZ was only following in the footsteps of hundreds of excellent composers like himself.

So, there is a concept here. If you read the other reviews here or even look it up on Wikipedia, you'll find out that this is the 3rd phase of a concept FZ had. The 1st phase was "We're Only In It For the Money" and the 2nd phase was "Lumpy Gravy" (the re-edited version). The original title of this album was "Lumpy Gravy Phase Three" but was changed to "Civilization Phaze III" which gives some insight as to what this is all about. The concept is the vocal parts are performed by a civilization that lives inside of a piano called "piano people" and their discussions about the menacing outside world. Just to make things even more fun, these people discover pigs and ponies living in the piano with them. This is not a story per se as it is a study on thinking and society, the ideas and thoughts of these "piano people", and their relationship to their music. One of the funniest things on here is the discussion on the track "How the Pig's Music Works" and it's satirical explanation which makes fun of people who think they understand avant-garde music and try to interpret it. The discussion makes no sense but the people sitting around discussing it all act like they understand what it's about, just like the so-called "hipsters" that you still run in to even today.

The strange voices are created by several speakers talking through a piano. The timbre of the voices are created by the vibration of the piano strings inside the piano. The instrumentals on here are mostly created by the synclavier and performed and composed by FZ himself. In his later years, this was FZ's instrument of choice because it was so much easier and faster to perform this way than with an orchestra or band. The additional instruments are performed by the Ensemble Modern.

There are no guitar solos here. There is no chorus, verse, chorus form here. There is no melody here, at least not in the traditional sense. This is modern classical music and this is FZ's way of advancing music to another level. It is not easy to listen to, even knowing everything that I have just explained. But, it is hard not to admit that it is genius, a masterpiece. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to appreciate the music, but like so many other reviewers have said, it's hard to listen to but undeniably genius. Anyway, it is not entry level Frank Zappa by any means unless you are trying to get a classical professor to listen to FZ.

So, hopefully I have helped you make some sense out of this music. With understanding comes appreciation. I don't know if I will ever completely understand this album, so I will always have a hard time completely appreciating it, but I will always continue to try, because I love challenging music. But this is a long album and somewhat difficult to sit through, so it is a tough one for sure. Anyway, if you love FZ and are familiar with his many styles (because this is only 1 style of hundreds of his styles), then this is essential to understanding his discography. 5 stars. Now, if you choose to continue by listening to this, I wish you good luck!

Latest members reviews

5 stars Wow. The best thing I can say about this album is that it should be approached with extreme caution. I bought this not long after it came out, in 1995 or so. I had no idea what it was, and had only heard 3 or 4 Zappa albums up to that point (and only owned two; Hot Rats and Live Roxy). Those ... (read more)

Report this review (#169022) | Posted by infandous | Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I'm afraid it took about 5 or 6 listens before I learned to love this album. It is very difficult going but if you have some 'conceptual continuity' clues beneath your belt, some knowledge of his earlier works, then persevere. This is an object of strange beauty. A fitting swansong from a true 20 ... (read more)

Report this review (#60513) | Posted by | Friday, December 16, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars first off, i know i am going to go over 50 words. sorry. as some of your earlier reviews mentioned, only those listeners to all of fz's music can truly understand what this project was about... this was his last work and he wanted it to stand out and alone from everything before. this is no ... (read more)

Report this review (#53626) | Posted by | Thursday, October 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is Zappa's most serious work, basically his own requiem completed during his last days on earth -- the climax of the second disc being nothing less than Zappa's musical commentary on mortality (his own & everyone else's.) Which is not to say there isn't also humour, politics and everythi ... (read more)

Report this review (#50425) | Posted by | Friday, October 7, 2005 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I'd like to say this album is worth getting for the artwork alone (it's really nice), but I just can't. I am a full-fledged Zappaphile and I just can't sit through two discs of random noise like this. Zappa really could have used a good editor from time to time. But he did fight long and ha ... (read more)

Report this review (#30282) | Posted by Custodian | Monday, December 27, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is the last work released by Frank before he died. It's importance can't be overstated, it IS a true MASTERPIECE. It can be seen as the culmination of Zappa the Composer (which is how his real fans understand him). The different sides of Zappa's musical character are all still in here, ... (read more)

Report this review (#30281) | Posted by | Thursday, July 29, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars If you're not familiar with the musical language of mid to late 20th century music, i.e. Webern; Boulez, Pendercki, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, etc, this album will probably sound like incomprehensible rubbish to your ears. If, however, you are familiar with and like mid to late 20th century ... (read more)

Report this review (#30280) | Posted by The Mentalist | Wednesday, June 16, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Forget any pre conceptions you have about Frank Zappa-indeed about music because this is really where the true essence of what Frank was about lies. Read the libretto whilst listening and it will make the strangest of sense. This is art beyond the boundaries of art, it is perfect. It's not Roc ... (read more)

Report this review (#30279) | Posted by | Tuesday, May 4, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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