Frank Zappa - Boulez Conducts Zappa - The Perfect Stranger (1983)

The Perfect Stranger 12:41
Naval Aviation in Art?   2:43
The Girl in the Magnesium Dress     3:09
Dupree's Paradise   7:51
Love Story   0:55
Outside Now Again   4:04
Jonestown   5:27
Total Time: 37 min, 6 sec

Coming right on the heels of the London Symphony Orchestra album, this disc must have had Frank's rock fans wondering if he had gone entirely classical. This disc is split pretty much evenly between orchestral pieces conducted by Pierre Boulez and electronic pieces that mark the entry of the synclavier (a cross between a synthesizer and a computer) into the Zappa catalog.

The fact that Boulez's name comes before Zappa's on the cover makes me wonder which audience they were trying to sell this one to. At least Frank managed to find orchestral performers and a conductor who took the care to create the best possible performance. And with the synclavier, Frank was discovering that he didn't even need to rely on performers - he could have an absolutely precise orchestra of any size right at his fingertips, who would play whatever he wanted.

The title track starts off with the sound of a doorbell, and the liner notes explain that the piece supposedly tells the story of a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. I actually like this song more than most orchestral Zappa pieces, but I honestly can't tell you why. It just sounds good to me.

Naval Aviation in Art? is the same piece that appeared on Orchestral Favorites, although this performance is longer and maybe a little better. The next track is the first synclavier song, The Girl In the Magnesium Dress. This piece would later be performed by the Ensemble Modern on The Yellow Shark album.

Dupree's Paradise is another orchestral piece, based on the song of the same title that Frank's live bands had been performing for years. This version is more focused than the live versions, without all the soloing. Love Story is another, very short, synclavier piece. For such a short song, it has caused a lot of trouble - some on-line music database has gotten this song confused with one of the same title done by one of the Three Tenors, so now once a month or so someone comes into the Zappa newsgroup asking about the Zappa song that the Tenors covered. It's a mistake folks - unless those vocalists figured out how to sing a one minute instrumental song.

The final two tracks are also synclavier pieces. The first uses the backing pattern of Outside Now from Joe's Garage, and puts a fluttering, random-sounding lead line over top of it. Jonestown is one of the darkest sounding songs Zappa ever wrote - five and a half minutes of sheer despair. I love it.

This album might make a good introduction both to Zappa's orchestral work and his synclavier work. It's short enough that it doesn't seem overwhelming, but it contains a lot of good stuff.

Album Cover

Image of the Perfect Stranger album cover