The Perfect Stranger

Released: August 23 1984


  1. The Perfect Stranger
  2. Naval Aviation In Art?
  3. the Girl In The Magnesium Dress
  4. Dupree’s Paradise
  5. Love Story
  6. Outside Now Again
  7. Jonestown

Tracks 1, 2, 4: Ensemble InterContemporain conducted by/direction: Pierre Boulez (recorded January 10 & 11 1984 at Ircam, Paris)
Tracks 3, 5, 6, 7: The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort

4 thoughts on “The Perfect Stranger”

  1. A “preposterously non-modern” hybrid of which a signifigant ratio is very modern indeed, this darling mutation commences w/ the chiming doorbell that lures us into the twisted motifs of the title track. Schmaltz mates w/ sleaze, the inner nature of its lurid spawn is then presented for our enjoyment … feel the chrome … the Ensemble InterContemporain is also able 2 execute a worthy “Naval Aviation In Art?” – an excellent choice, considering the marvelous economy & muscular bite of this little sucker. They also perform a potent 7:51 sound poem, “Dupree’s Paradise” … like Peter Rundel, Pierre Boulez did FZ’s music right just & good, from the simple expedient of Wanting To Whip It Out.

    The other 1/2 of the album is Zappa’s early work on the Synclavier; I find the results a mite uneven, mayhap the man’s guitar on the original spoilt my jaded axons, but I just cannot get into the dry cyber-Webern of “Outside Now Again” – & “Love Story” sounds as though he left the gizmo 2 jam w/ its bad teenage self for 0:55 …
    “The Girl In The Magnesium Dress” is one of the most eargasmic spine-tinglers my cilia have yet 2 get whupped by, PERIOD. Must give EM credit 4 a bit of yeoman’s duty on it some years hence, yet this original one has the brute density that the track calls 4; this piece hints toward where FZ might’ve taken us (what, even WEIRDER than …?!!?). “Jonestown” more than lives up 2 its ugliness-potential, its sinister gurglings being a plain precursor 2 the wave of industro-dirge that was still several years 2 come – remember, folks, when this came out a Skinny Puppy was the star of a Purina ad, & Front Line Assembly was a good-paying gig w/GM … even in the absence of FZ’s repulsive description of the visual motif, this ditty almost instantly produces a desire for Gravol, or a nice wall-sized mural of a puppy wearing a cute hat … if this one doesn’t creep yez out, check your pulse.

    Oh, yeah, & no matter HOW awesome the fat dude w/the fancy white robe makes heaven seem, please don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

  2. The material is obviously high quality stuff- this is the best version of ‘Naval Aviation’ to be done. The title piece is one of Zappa’s classical masterpieces, and Dupree’s Paradise is gorgeous.

    Unfortunatley, it’s the compositions that are wonderful, not the performances. Boulez doesn’t get Zappa. Let’s see- Boulez has said ‘I care for how music is made, not how it sounds.’ He’s called Charles Ives an amateur.

    Boulez’s interpretations of Varese are famous. And that’s about all he can glimmer from Zappa’s music–it’s influences. So some pieces come off as a mess, in particular ‘The Perfect Stranger’ itself, which lacks any sense of unity or climax simply because Boulez can’t accent Zappa. (Note- it’s all note perfect. He’s just not getting the feel.)

    Fortunatley, we have the Synclavier tracks, which are fantastic, though they are among the least accessible he wrote for the machine. ‘The Girl In The Magnesium Dress’ is a masterpiece in this form. ‘Love Story’ sounds like an experiment that needs more probing–reminds me of a Nancarrow study. And Jonestown is one of the darkest, most terrifying pieces Zappa wrote. It desperatley needs an orchestral arrangement (would have been nice on TYS).

    Out of all, Outside Now Again is a break from the relentless avant-garde that surrounds it. It’s a beautifully colorful little thing.

  3. Wow, this disc is soooooooo bitchin’! Obscure it may be but it deserves to be heard. I love both the orchestral pieces and the synclavierpieces. And, I don’t find “Jonestown” to be depressing at all. To me it sounds like soundtrack music to a b-rated sci-fi movie. It
    is sort of quiet and ambient, with enough quirky and interesting
    sounds to make it not ambient at all, if that makes any sense!
    The song “Outrage at Valdez” on The Yellow Shark is a sad track,
    in my opinion, but this song is just low key to me, the title
    nonwithstanding. “Dupree’s Paradise” is so different than the
    live versions I have heard that it is nearly like a new song to
    my ears. The title track is very cool and, like most of Frank’s
    music, it brings a smile to my mug when I listen to it. I also
    enjoyed “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” as it is played quite
    differently than the one I know from The Yellow Shark, but not in
    a bad way. Granted, it may be that these performances are
    inferior to the ones played by the Ensemble Modern on TYS, but as
    I am not an expert but merely an avid listener, they sound fine
    to me. And, I am aware of FZ’s feelings about the performances of
    his ‘serious’ music in the 1980’s. Boulez may be a touch uptight
    for Frank’s music, but I think the compositions are fascinating
    and entertaining enough to be interesting despite any mistakes or
    difference in approach to realizing the music. Ok, this is
    getting too long winded! Trust me and the other reviewers – this
    is a cool album to throw on and to watch ‘cinematic movies of the
    mind’ to!

  4. I love this release, and I completely agree with the above reviews, even if the first one is trying to be all esoteric and artsy in its “deep” allusions and references (it gave me gas). Anyhoo-“The Perfect Stranger” ushers in a wonderfully productive period of 1984 releases from Frank (not since 1981 was he so prolific with releases in one year), and I agree: the mixture of the synlavier and real ensemble recordings is wonderful.

    I may be one of the minority of Frank fans out there who almost unilaterally love all his synclavier recordings, from this all the way through “Civilization: Phaze III”. Let’s face it folks: listening to the synclavier recordings is probably as close to sitting right inside the musical mind of Frank Zappa as anyone is likely to come. The stuff he could program into the instrument is (in almost all cases) technically unplayable by human beings (althought the Ensemble Modern came astoundingly close), and the colors of instrumentation he picks is definitely Frank’s timbre “color” palatte (lots of tonal percussion and winds, very high and mid-rangy, not tons of low-end or bass instruments). In short: all self-professed fans of Frank’s music-music need to come to terms with the composer’s synclavier work; it’s just THAT important to his compositional approach.

    Again, the Zappa vs. Boulez soap opera stories (with Zappa cringing in the wings over the sloppy playing) is well documented elsewhere, but I personally feel that the live playing restores a ton of the human warmth and commitment sorely lacking on the LSO releases. I’m much more a “chamber music guy” myself, and the occasional Frank releases that feature a smaller orchestra ensemble (like the “Ahead of Their Time” BBC orchestra stuff) seems to hold a much dearer, deeper place in my heart for some reason.

    I donno–after the draining, huge extravaganza of Frank’s LSO adventure, I applaud him for putting out this quiet, fascinating “orchestra light”-style release, which can so easily be overlooked. This is a wonderful hybrid of the synclavier and chamber pieces–what a musician; what a writer.

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