FRANK ZAPPA Civilization Phaze III

Album · 1994 · Third Stream
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1.5/5 ·
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.
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