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Captain Beefheart - Safe As Milk CD (album) cover

SAFE AS MILK

Captain Beefheart

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.86 | 194 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars Having escaped the urban pressures of the Los Angeles scene at an early age, the parents of Dan Van Vliet who would become better known as CAPTAIN BEEFHEART found much of his creative inspiration in the Mojave desert highlands near the town of Lancaster, CA where he became obsessed with the blues sounds of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Son House and Robert Johnson but was also equally intrigued by the avant-garde nature of jazz artists such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. After developing his own musical skills and began to play on his own he would also become one of Frank Zappa's greatest partners in crime on the eccentric R&B music scene in the mid-60s before eventually creating some of the wildest unclassifiable albums ever to hit the rock music world.

For anyone who has only exposed themselves to the mind bending freakery of albums like 'Trout Mask Replica' it may come as quite a shock when coming to this debut album that was at the time of release an official project of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND. The BAND part of the equation remained a rotating cast of musicians who would come and go on the various albums throughout BEEFHEART's career. The good CAPTAIN spent his years leading up to this debut releasing some rather safe if not bland singles based entirely on blues rock for the A&M record label but it wouldn't take long for the CAPTAIN's eccentric irrepressible ways to come to the surface and cause tension which would lead to a complete meltdown. The dramatic event was triggered by what to put on the debut album affectionally titled SAFE AS MILK. While A&M wanted more cute and cuddly blues songs with a rock veneer, the good CAPTAIN simply insisted that some of his more experimental tracks find their way onto the album, specifically the amazingly electrified 'Electricity' which redefined the experimental possibilities of blues rock.

The label refused and BEEFHEART was forced to scope out a plan B which resulted in a 1967 release on the New York City based Buddha Records which favored a more diverse genre selection than many others as they included everything from the Bubblegum pop of Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company to the folk rock of Melanie and the soul of Gladys Knight & The Pips. Having seen the tides changing they took a chance on BEEFHEART's mix of blues with slightly off-kilter elements but in reality SAFE AS MILK as the title suggests is perhaps the most accessible album by the good CAPTAIN at least before the pathetic attempts to go commercial in the mid-70s. In the process of finding a new home for his recordings, BEEFHEART recruited the musical cast of Alex St. Clair Snouffer (guitar, bass, percussion), Jerry Handley (bass), John French (drums) and a young 20 year old guitarist Ry Cooder who was just getting his feet wet in the music biz.

This was the period before the good CAPTAIN really found his true calling by creating twisted gnarled blues tracks that were part jazz, part progressive rock and just part unexplainably weird. SAFE AS MILK requires no conditioning to enjoy and displays the period where not only was BEEFHEART coming of age and feeling comfortable in his skin but also showcased the tension of being expected to perform according to a label's whims while sneaking in some poetic license to let loose once in a while. The album was grace with ballsy guitar riffs influenced by the Delta blues of Mississippi along with harmonic musical structures that include rhythmic guitar slides, harmonica and BEEFHEART's grizzled vocal deliveries. It also exudes an instant attraction albeit not too distant from the influences from whence the influences were derived. Perhaps the most derivative of any BEEFHEART album, SAFE AS MILK nonetheless encapsulates some distinct escapes from the status quo.

Firstly the wild and brilliantly electrified 'Electricity' sounds as explosive as Arthur Brown's 'Fire' with its overconfident delivery of unconventionalities that included a theremin and stylistic approach that resembles danceable electronic music of the future more than the classic blues styles. While A&M deemed the track too negative and weird, the track has remained one of BEEFHEART's most identifiable earlier songs. Another interesting fact about SAFE AS MILK was that the instruments were staking out their own territorial claims instead of being subordinate to the other. The drums were independent of the bass line and the guitar tracks were finding ways to exist within the confines of the songs yet taking liberties. All in all the tracks like 'Abba Zabba' were adding African drumming and ethnic flavors which altered the bluesy natural flow and thus aspects like these were finding SAFE AS MILK as a pivotal step for the strange new twists and turns that were just around the pike.

SAFE AS MILK seemed like it lived up to its title too much for my first few experiences with this album. There are points where it is nauseatingly bland with the throwaway track 'I'm Glad' topping the list, a song so gag inducing that would've even made Leslie Gore throw it in the trash. Not only is the overwrought winey ballad clearly demonstrative of why BEEFHEART's vocal abilities were designed for more adventurous and less melodic realities but the track ruins of the flow of an otherwise fairly good bluesy rock album. While the more experimental tracks like 'Electricity' clearly steal the thunder of the otherwise pleasant but fairly traditional sounding tracks, the album still is a decent grower even if the continuity seems a little stilted. In effect this is an album that is a collection of tracks that seem to have been created under different conditions than an album that flows neatly from beginning to end but after many listens the album kinda sinks its hooks into you once the ear worms burrow themselves in. Personally i prefer the unleashed madman BEEFHEART to come but i can't deny this is a really fun 'normal' album by master of experimental blues.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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