Portsmouth Sinfonia

Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics

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In 1974, Columbia Records took advertisements out for this project produced by Brian Eno and conducted by John Farley, and those ads blared "Indisputably, the worst orchestra in the world." "It was awful," stated a Mrs. Betty Atkinson from New Musical Express, adding, "I want my money back." And this statement came from the Evening Standard: "One member...was caught secretly practicing and had to be thrown out." This was the classical version of Mrs. Miller, with Eno among the 33 "band members" on display on the front cover. "Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 31 (Excerpt)" is pretty funny, but if your cup of tea is to hear Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, Bach, Bizet, Holst, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Rossini bastardized, you are probably one of the few who appreciated the sequel. Antilles released Hallelujah two years later in 1976, and there seems to be little excuse for it. Making an intentionally bad record is an art form -- Lou Reed did it with Metal Machine Music to stick it to his record label, and that record is as unlistenable as the Portsmouth Sinfonia's Plays the Popular Classics, but it is far more valuable in collectors' circles. And that's the point -- Reed's demented liner notes and attitude were perfect pop culture straight out of Andy Warhol's classroom. Where 30 seconds of Metal Machine Music is funny, the Portsmouth Sinfonia is so bad that you want to break things if forced to listen to "The Nutcracker Suite" for an extended period. The joke gets tired real fast. Now, had Eno resurrected Mrs. Miller, featured a guest appearance from Yoko Ono, or -- better still -- a featured a duet with Yoko and Mrs. Miller, then this record wouldn't be attempting to play the classics, it would be classic. Eno needed to have a decent orchestra perform the hits properly with his Roxy Music synthesizer taking the lead. Now that would have been very special. Instead, listeners have this bad joke, which makes no sense and which fails to entertain. Listening to Dan Peek from America doing Christian music is not as difficult as this display.

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