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Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica CD (album) cover


Captain Beefheart



3.76 | 390 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
1 stars Like one of Jackson Pollock's

This is an album which has intrigued me for years. Many people hold it up as one of the best albums ever made, but for one reason or another it was only recently that I decided to see what the fuss was about.

I have to confess, I find myself mystified as to what the appeal of this album (and indeed more widely the appeal of the Captain) is. I readily admit that jazz as a whole does little for me, but while the music here has a large freeform element to it, I suspect jazz is not really the appropriate term for it.

This 1969 album was the third release by Captain Beefheart. It is though arguably the first to truly represent what Beefheart and his Magic Band were all about. Encouraged by Frank Zappa (who produced the album), they threw all the previous tenets and restrictions they had worked to aside, and recorded exactly what they wanted to record, the way they wanted to do it. Such lofty ideals can seem gallant, but they also carry with them a high risk strategy. The results can either be brilliantly innovative, or hopelessly uncontrolled. If nothing else, this album demonstrates such a situation perfectly, but it is for the listener to decide which of the results was achieved.

At first, the track list can be somewhat daunting, offering no less than 28 tracks spread over a double LP. Clearly then, there are no side long epics here, or indeed anything which might be described a long by any standard. In musical terms, it seems few would deny that the listener should not expect to hear compositions as such. This has been described as "a work of art" (by DJ John Peel), and it would seem that to gain anything at all from it one must approach it on that basis. As we all know though, art comes in many diverse forms, and beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. As someone who fails to see the attraction in abstract or modern art, my feelings towards musical works such as those presented in this album tend to parallel my views of the painted form.

In such cases, there is the offer of mitigation in being able to appreciate something without actually liking it. I regret to say that in this case I neither appreciate OR like what I hear on "Trout mask replica". For me, the songs here have all the symptoms of a hotchpotch of quickly thrown together ideas without substance or direction. I search in vain for a hint of a melody, a virtuoso performance on guitar, or even just a lyric which has a modicum of value. Not only do I fail miserably to garner any sort of pleasure from the album, I am embarrassed to say I also fail to understand what it is which leads others to appreciate the album on any level.

In the end, I can only offer a practical analysis, in the hope of assisting those wondering whether the album might be for them. This album does not contain music in its traditional form. It contains intense experimentation and improvisation devoid of apparent structure. There is no ambience to the resulting sounds, but those with a liking of jazz may find an overlap with that style. There is no doubt that this album does have something, there are so many people for whom it is a masterpiece or close to it. Regrettably, I can offer no help whatsoever in defining what that something is.

Easy Livin | 1/5 |


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