Well, I’ve ended up here and that’s no surprise, I suppose. This album features Zappa and the Ensemble Modern retooling and reimaging a lot of old tracks as orchestral pieces. Zappa was nearing the end of his life during the recording of this album and he only briefly appears on this live album, recorded at one of only two concerts he was able to attend. The album was released only a month before his death. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following my Zappa reviews that I really dislike this album. It’s no coincidence that it features a couple of tracks from Uncle Meat, by far my least favorite Zappa album, because this album finds him working again in that “infernal tootling” style that absolutely puts my teeth on edge. This album seems to have been purposely recorded to sound as awful as possible. It’s all nonsensical and basically unlistenable, a bizarre series of tweets and bangs and squawks and blatts thrown together, seemingly at random. I’ve gone off at great length about my problems with this particular mode of Zappa and it would be in bad taste to belabor the point here. The spoken word tracks, it is worth saying, are, as usual, the worst on the album. Still, I’m genuinely glad Zappa got to make this album before he died. Seeing him on the cover of this album was kind of shocking to me. He looks very old, but his gaze is still confrontational and intelligent and I’ll admit that it caused a surprising amount of emotion to well up inside me. Over the last year or so, I’ve listened to around twenty-five Zappa albums; figure a minimum of four listens each (my SOP) and a fair number of them were double albums, a couple even double CDs, and you end up with a lot of hours I’ve spent with this man over the months. Somehow, much as I hate this, when I read that creating it was one of his most satisfying experiences, I’m glad he got to do it. Me and Frank, we’ve had our struggles and it’s somehow fitting that the last album of his lifetime is yet another one that has me gnashing my teeth. At the end of the day, though, there’s some affection for him, even when he’s being this obtuse and infuriating. Call that this album’s one grace. ½ star.
tl;dr – final album of Zappa’s lifetime is weird orchestral mashup that is annoying and essentially unlistenable; no one could have expected his signoff to be anything less & that almost helps. ½ star.