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Captain Beefheart - Safe As Milk CD (album) cover

SAFE AS MILK

Captain Beefheart

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.87 | 129 ratings

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questionsneverknown
4 stars Bursting on the southern California scene with a triumphant rendition of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy," Don Van Vliet and his band show off even more of their muscular psych blues on their first album, Safe as Milk. The album is like a tour of all the potential directions the late 1960s music scenes could be heading toward. "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" drops the listener into a little funky desert blues as Van Vliet offers up his best Howlin' Wolf impressions. And from there it's a yard sale of grand 60s garage nuggets that drip blues, psychedelia and odd pop in equal measure. And as pop hopping as a number of these tracks are, it's sometimes surprising to hear some fairly straight slow ballads, like "I'm Glad." When I hear ballads like these today, they remind me strangely enough of the first disc of the Mothers' Freak Out. If you'd already heard later Zappa (or Beefheart), or you had heard about how far out they're all supposed to be, it can be a surprise to find how non-radical some of these songs sound, how oddly conventional they sound now. But then history jolts you back and you realize how truly radical albums like Freak Out and Safe as Milk really were, and really are. A song like "I'm Glad" reminds us of where the radio was swimming at the time, and the mind tornado the 60s was really ready to churn was hovering at the horizon and these guys were cheering it on. So, to hear "I'm Glad" move into "Electricity" is to realize how devastatingly original this material is.

Still, hearing it all with ears primed for prog, it is the theremin boogie of "Electricty" and the acid tribal damage of "Abba Zaba" that fly in the air and sing. Of the two, it's the latter that really startles and points the way forward. "Electricity" is a stunner of a song, but (and this is not really a negative) it still feels of the lysergic moment, whereas "Abba Zaba" really sounds like nothing else, except the future. The cod Africana rhythm section and the diagonal lead lines are the real signal here of where the man is planning on taking us.

This is fun, heavy stuff and, as odd as this material can sometimes be, it is the safest milk from the Vliet dairy. I know blues fans who adore this album but really hate all the Beefheart that comes after. And there is great 60s blues here, especially on "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do," "Dropout Boogie" and "Plastic Factory." But for those of us who are ready for the greater adventure, it is "Electricity" and, mostly, mightily, "Abba Zaba" that are the stars of this, the first Really Big Show from the desert.

questionsneverknown | 4/5 |

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