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Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica CD (album) cover


Captain Beefheart



3.74 | 321 ratings

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4 stars So much has already been said about this album, both on PA and elsewhere, that I'm just going to try to look past the hoopla and sensationalism in favor of weighing this album's pros and cons. Without a doubt, this is an iconic album that was pretty much unprecedented when it was released in 1969, and it therefore incites extreme opinions in either direction. I have been listening to this album for over 25 years now, so while the initial shock has long since worn off since I first heard it, that may prove to be a positive boon as I try to address the album objectively.

On the plus side, you have The Magic Band pulling off some of the most revolutionary ensemble playing ever released on record. What at first sounds like a free form jam becomes an intricate, nonlinear series of tightly wound riffs layered on top of each other, upon closer listening. And there are over 20 tracks of this kind of thing across two records -- right out of the gate with "Frownland", you are thrown into confusion until your head catches up with your ears and you realize there's actually a GROOVE going on in there. "Dachau Blues", "Ella Guru", "Wild Life", "She's Too Much for My Mirror", "When Big Joan Sets Up",.... and on and on, each track more dazzling and confounding than the last.

There are occasional moments of relative normality -- "China Pig" is a basic bare-bones blues number, "Moonlight on Vermont" has recognizable hooks and song structure, and there are a few a capella or spoken word pieces to give the band a much needed break ("The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back", "Orange Claw Hammer", "Well"). Still, the album as a whole oozes weirdness, and has rightfully become a benchmark of sorts for avant garde rock music.

On the minus side, and I hate to say this, Captain Beefheart himself actually holds the album back just a little bit. As wild and untamed as he was, getting a good vocal take from him was a real challenge, and his singing levels and timing are wildly inconsistent. Though this was later hailed as a sign of genius by many critics (especially when punk came around), to me it's just irresponsible record making. Sorry Cap. You should have at least agreed to wear headphones in the studio. Why you refused to do that, I'll never understand. Another slight "minus" on the album is the overall presentation by producer Frank Zappa. I get a strong feeling he wanted to make a "freak show" album like he'd done with Wild Man Fischer the year before. Including false starts, spoken nonsequitors between tracks ("Fast n' Bulbous!), using a phone conversation with Mothers of Invention accompaniment as a track ("The Blimp"), this all added to the circus atmosphere. It's weird to hear myself complaining about this, because that novelty aspect was what really hooked me in the first place, but I can't help but think the album could have been a lot tighter and taken more seriously had it been presented a little better.

Add it all together and you've still got a four star album. A real wower, but certainly not without flaws. And not even his best album...

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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