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Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica CD (album) cover


Captain Beefheart



3.74 | 321 ratings

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Symphonic Team
2 stars Master of the absurd presents a unique experience that becomes ultimately repellent

Captain Beefheart is renowned for one album; Trout Mask Replica. For years I had been avoiding this album simply because it's reputation precedes it. The cover has that iconic image. It is well known as being a freaky trippy album with insanity turned up to 11 and experimental RIO Avant nuances. Often the infamy of an album becomes an enigma, and in this case the enigma of the album is far stronger and compelling than the actual material on it. In a similar way to Zappa's infamous 'Freak Out' album, 'Trout Mask Replica' is a journey into the absurd. Beefheart blows the doors off all vestiges of normality and plunges ass deep into the irrational. He gets into it up to his neck in fact and drags the unsuspecting listener in there with him and we have no alternative but to sink into the dark recess of a jaded mind. It is not even slapstick comedy but is rather fuelled with a disturbing and at times entertaining bizarre cynical edge. The edge is tarnished in places with overblown anti-poetry and in a sense anti-music. Many of the songs have a time signature that does not sync with the words, a drum may seem completely out of rhythm with the jangly guitars. The singing is terrible, it is meant to be I believe, and really sounds like nothing more than the mad ramblings of a deranged lunatic. Some of the tracks have no music at all and consist of a Beefheart monologue. These are the worst on the album. China Pig, and Hobo Chang Ba, for instance, are insufferable. The lyrics are weird to say the least, though at times the high strangeness is amusing making this an endurable curio album. But you have to sit through this for a full 78 minutes.

On 'Well' Beefheart states "night blocks out da heaven like a big black shiny bug!" On 'Old fart at play' there are a number of ramblings such as "mama, pecked the ground like a rooster, swivelled like a duck... the old fart smelled this through his breather holes, his excited eyes from within the dark interior glazed watered in appreciation.... oh man that's so heavy". On 'The Blimp' we have the iconic insanity of "the mothership! the mothership! the blimp! the blimp! it blows the air the ceiling fan look up into the sky, all the people stared, oh mama who cares it's the blimp! its the blimp!" Best of all is 'Pena' with the hilarious dialogue, "Fast and bulbous, also a tin teardrop!, The mascara snake, bulbous also tapered. Stuff billowing up from between her legs made me vomit beautifully and crush a chandelier" Now if at this stage you are scratching your head thinking what the heck is that about, then perhaps this album is not for you. The whole album is full of such anecdotes and none of it makes sense.

The moment you try to pin some kind of meaning on this baloney is the moment you have completely lost the point of the album. The point is that sometimes music does not make sense and we shouldn't try to pin on it sense when there is none. The dissonance of the time sigs, and instruments competing against each other is the avant sound that Beefheart strives for. This music is all about escaping a mediocre mainstream sound to make way for the new sound; a sound that is at times innovative, highly creative and other times hilarious, at times disturbing and creepy, and then unfortunately often becomes tedious. The tedious moments overwhelm the compelling moments. Even though there are 28 tunes to revel in, I could only find a mere 5 that were worth repeated listens.

The problem with the album arises from the fact that after the initial shock reaction and admittedly amusing response that will be generated from the album, (indeed it can become a topic of conversation in the same way as The Residents), the music will soon become confronting and unpleasant. There are no virtuoso guitar solos or brilliant musicianshil, arguably that would defeat the purpose of the album, and the lyrics are not exactly Shakespeare, and the singing is rather malignant, backed by benign dialogue. It is similar to 'Freak Out' with the smatterings of dialogue, and a rawness that is edgy, psychedelic, or is that psychotic, and dissonant. The sax blasts from the captain are great, the flute and clarinet add to the fun, but the jangalang guitar dominates as well as some sporadic drumming. In a sense the music is the best thing about it but you cannot ignore those hyper weird lyrics and Beefheart's exaggerated accentuated growls.

Some tracks are painful with Beefheart blaring out a bunch of nonsense. Was he a genius or simply off his rocker? I believe a bit of both would be an apt description. For me. It is impossible to rate this as a masterpiece though I can see many may come to that conclusion for all the reasons stated thus far. The album though is too clever or too weird for its own good, and Beefheart's prose and idiocy causes him to disappear up his own tail shaft. Pretentious? Not even that! One thing for certain is that you are unlikely to hear anything this ludicrous.

The 5 tracks that jump out and bite my ears that I would recommend are 'Pachuco Cadaver', 'Sugar 'N Spikes', 'When Big Joan Sets Up', 'Ant Man Bee' and 'Old Fart At Play'. As for the rest, I am afraid it went clean over my head. At first some were funny, but the joke grows stale, so I guess this works best as a one off listen and then one can move on and say they at least have heard the most unique, bizarre music from one of the absolute masters of the absurd. The late great Captain Beefheart.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 2/5 |


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