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Frank Zappa Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger album cover
3.51 | 151 ratings | 8 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1984

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Perfect Stranger (12:41)
2. Naval Aviation In Art? (2:43)
3. The Girl In The Magnesium Dress (3:09)
4. Outside Now, Again (4:04)
5. Love Story (0:55)
6. Dupree's Paradise (7:51)
7. Jonestown (5:27)

Total Time: 36:50

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / synclavier ("The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort") (3,4,5,7), producer

- David Ocker / synclavier programming
- Steve DiFuria / programming (software)
- Pierre Boulez / conductor (1,2,6)
Ensemble InterContemporain (1,2,6) :
- Péter Eötvös / musical director
- Pierre-Laurent Aimard / piano
- Guy Arnaud / bass clarinet
- Paul Meyer / clarinet
- Jerôme Naulais / trombone
- Lawrence Beauregard / flute
- Antoine Curé / trumpet
- Jacques Ghestem / violin
- Marie-Claire Jamet / harp
- Daniel Ciampolini / percussion

Releases information

Artwork: Donald Roller Wilson

LP Angel Records ‎- DS-38170 (1984, US)

CD EMI Digital ‎- CDC-7 47125 2 (1985, ?) Tracks 4 & 6 switched positions from LP sequence
CD Zappa Records ‎- 0238692 (2012, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy FRANK ZAPPA Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger Music

FRANK ZAPPA Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger ratings distribution

(151 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(26%)
Good, but non-essential (37%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

FRANK ZAPPA Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by 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.
Review by 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.

Review by Mellotron Storm
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.

Review by tarkus1980
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...

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury 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.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Frank Zappa has mentioned before that he does humor in music in order to help get his music heard. Those expecting to find humor here will not find it unless you are looking for humor embedded in the orchestral arrangements of which there are plenty, many of which will fly right over the heads of most listeners. But that's okay, because this album is made up of serious music, contemporary, 20th Century Classical music. Zappa was first and foremost, a composer. People discover this music through his other types of music.

Truth be told, this is rather dense music, hard for a lot of people to listen to because it takes quite a lot of concentration and many a listen to "get it". In this album, you have two types of performances of Zappa's serious compositions: orchestral and electronic. The first track is the title track and also the longest track on the album. It is exactly as the title of the album states, "The Perfect Stranger" as conducted by Pierre Boulez and performed by the InterContemporain Orchestra. There is no hidden meaning here, it is as it states, so don't expect that this is a joke by Zappa, it is exactly as it says. It is a full orchestral work of over 12 minutes and it is contemporary. I have a hard time concentrating on this track because it is very densely embedded in the contemporary style and it doesn't have any apparent returning melody that is easy to find in the many layers of notes that are present. But I keep trying to organize this particular track hoping that somehow the music penetrates my thick skull so I can make sense out of it. I don't blame the composition on this or the orchestra/performance, I blame it solely on myself. Someday, I will get it, the light bulb will come on and I will proclaim the genius of Zappa! As for now, I will continue to work on that!

The 2nd track is also dense and very much like the first, also conducted and performed by the same personnel as the 1st track. This one is also found on the Orchestral Favorites album, but the parts are a little more discernible here. However, I get the same feeling as I do with the 1st track, completely lost in attempting to "get it". But this one is a little easier to digest because it's a short work of a little over 2 minutes and more like a bite sized piece of contemporary art and not an entire entrée like the 1st track.

Track #3 is performed by The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort, or in other words, Frank Zappa on the Synclavier. This track is a mishmash of notes which again make my mind go off the train track when trying to get the point. This is probably the hardest track of all to wrap my head around and if it were performed by a group of instruments, be it orchestral or rock and roll style instruments, would probably sound a lot like "The Black Page", which is a composition by Frank Zappa available on a multitude of releases, and given that title because the manuscript is so full of notes that it is almost completely black.

Dupree's Paradise, or track 4, is once again performed by the orchestra and after that clinical exercise on the Synclavier, actually sounds very nice. This, to me, is the easiest song to understand. It has an obvious melody and seems to have the direction that is a lot more obvious to follow. I'm proud to say that I understand this one and quite enjoy it. It is still contemporary and has a lot of dissonance and atonality, but it is easy to follow.

The last three tracks are on the Synclavier again, and I enjoy both of these also. The fifth track is quite short, the sixth track is somewhat playful and the last track is dark and spooky. They go by rather quickly.

I really wish I could break this album down better, and may be able to when I understand it better. In the meantime, you have a rather shallow review here of how my head can either wrap itself around the tracks or not. Hopefully that can be of some help to you, but if not, you only wasted, what, like 10 minutes to read this. So, if you like contemporary music, love Zappa and everything he does, or want to try to understand this album, then it is an excellent addition to your collection. If you don't enjoy this, then you would consider it for collectors only. Me, I like to pretend I'm from the first group :P So I will average it out and give it a 3 star rating and tell you that I like the Orchestral Favorites album better.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Consider this one a contemporary music release. This record consists of chamber pieces conducted by Pierre Boulez (as the title sugests) as well as Synclavier compositions performed by Zappa himself (disguised as The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort). Right off the bat, let me ackno ... (read more)

Report this review (#2231085) | Posted by Harold Needle | Sunday, June 16, 2019 | Review Permanlink

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 wi ... (read more)

Report this review (#29635) | Posted by | Saturday, April 17, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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