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"My smile is stuck - I cannot go back t' yer Frownland"

Class C

Main Category: Meta-Rock
Also applicable: Roots Rock, Rhythm & Blues
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years,

The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Captain Beefheart fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Captain Beefheart fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Eccentric and hip to the bone, a person whose very name defines weirdness and esoterics (I don't know how Don Van Vliet got called Captain Beefheart, but if I'm right in my suggestion that it is a very literal translation of the French knight nickname 'Coeur-de-Boeuf' which is in fact 'Bullheart', this only further hints at the Captain's witty sense of humour), a close friend of Zappa that managed to surpass him in his role of ultimate 'avantgarde composer', Beefheart definitely is not the easiest man to get to know. I ought to know that - my first acquaintance with Beefheart was through his vocal spots on Zappa's Bongo Fury, and I hated these vocal spots so much that it turned me off for a very long time.

Eventually, though, Beefheart can grow on you if you give him a chance. The one big mistake I think the world has made with Beefheart is proclaiming Trout Mask Replica his quintessential release and ultimate masterpiece. The only evidence for that is that TMR is, in fact, Beefheart at his weirdest and least accessible, but that does not mean that TMR features any of his best music or lyrics. Good or bad as this album is (see the full review below), it causes one significant misfire: every Beefheart novice starts off from that point and ninety-nine percent of these novices get 'killed off' and swear never to pronounce the name 'Beefheart' in good faith again, while the other one percent of novices are in fact deeply complexed freaks with hidden neurotic diseases who fall head-over-heels in love with TMR and proceed to ruin Beefheart's reputation even further. Because it's absolutely impossible to fall in love with TMR on first listen, and whoever chooses to listen to it over and over again until he finally does fall in love with it... well, cheer up, folks, there are better things to do in life. Go play some soccer instead.

Before one million ravenous fans set their hounds on my trail, let me now speak up in Van Vliet's favour. The truth lies in the fact that Beefheart is actually a very talented and intelligent fellow. He's got a great voice - contrary to rumours and the infamous Bongo Fury evidence, he can do much more than just growl in a vomit-inducing tone; his range is fabulous, and when he gets around to balladeering (not often, but he does), he even sounds lovely. He's got a terrific lyrical gift: he's a true master of words, and while his lyrics may not mean a lot, they're often hilarious and full of witty imagery. He's got a good taste for blues - much of the music he does is essentially 12-bar blues that's been seriously tampered with (sometimes not), and his delivery is completely authentic.

And finally, he's got a composer's gift, believe it or not. He was never as all-encompassing as Zappa, nor did he care much about intricate complex arrangements (most of his music was recorded with this or that edition of his 'Magic Band' that usually didn't consist of more than four or five musicians), and he's certainly lacking diversity, at least over the course of one single album. But he has a gift for melody, and when he isn't intentionally going over the top, he can even deliver a mighty catchy tune now and then. Especially in the early days, when his music was still music in the full sense of the word, that is, real melodies differing from each other over which he actually sang. Later on, the music became more like an inevitable background to his hoarse declamations, but even so, the musicianship was always professional and the actual 'tunes' always energetic and tasteful.

He also had his ups and downs, albums that were accessible and albums that were not, but it's a well-known fact that true 'weirdness', even if it does seriously limit the artist's audience, also accounts for an artist's longevity and relative lack of particularly low spots - just look at Zappa, for Chrissake. Unfortunately, since the mid-Eighties Beefheart has completely refrained from making music and now sticks to painting and gardening (so I've heard); maybe it was a wise decision of a person who felt he had nothing left to say musically, maybe not, but facts are facts.

All of the above doesn't mean that I'm a Beefheart fan, of course - generally, I'm not an avid listener of his music and wouldn't recommend him to just anybody. I definitely would not recommend Beefheart to the kind of potentially snub-nosed population who's always looking for 'sensations' in order to look particularly elitist and pretend that loving and 'understanding' this kind of music distinguishes them from the rest. That kind of population can go to hell as long as I care. Music is a value in itself, and when somebody starts using music as a means of self-distinction or self-elevation he's actually just confirming his idiocy; unfortunately, many Beefheart fans who claim that they have "outgrown" everything else have in reality outgrown common sense. The existence of Beefheart is in no way more important than the existence of the Hollies or the Beach Boys; not any less important, probably, but that's another part of the story.

But if you're an intelligent, eclectic and bold type of dude who's always looking for bold innovations and tries to assimilate as many styles and freaky or non-freaky musical directions as possible, you're welcome to try, and you might not disappoint yourself. Just do NOT start with Trout Mask Replica, despite what the critics and ratings tell you. A good place to start would be Shiny Beast, which I consider to be Beefheart's most well-balanced album; otherwise, you can just start from the beginning and proceed forward carefully. There is a lot of fluff even on some of his best records, but the same goes for Zappa; it's just a normal thing for 'weirdos'.

My Beefheart collection is only starting, but at least I have enough albums to start this here page now. I do miss some crucial points, though, like Lick My Decals Off and certain others, but I believe I'll be able to pick 'em up in the future.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Cool. R'n'B taken to the sixth dimension - whoever thought such things could be done to the old blues masters?


Track listing: 1) Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do; 2) Zig Zag Wanderer; 3) Call On Me; 4) Dropout Boogie; 5) I'm Glad; 6) Electricity; 7) Yellow Brick Road; 8) Abba Zaba; 9) Plastic Factory; 10) Where There's Woman; 11) Grown So Ugly; 12) Autumn's Child.

Ah, there's nothing more delicious to my heart than to trace some famous "weirdo"'s career to its humble beginnings. As you know, I'm a great supporter of the Golden Middle - don't go too much overboard, but don't sit in the same boat all the time - and, just like Zappa's Freak Out!, Captain Beefheart's debut album is just the thing for me, if only because this is where he manages to find the perfect balance between traditional musical forms and his own weird eccentricity.

Actually, as the first chords and the first gruff vocals of 'Sure 'Nuff 'N' Yes I Do' break out of the silence on your CD player, you stare in wonder - is this really a Captain Beefheart record or did somebody sell you a Muddy Waters album by mistake? Don Van Vliet imitates Muddy's intonations perfectly, overreacting in just a couple of spots, and the backing Magic Band churns out the chords to Muddy's 'Rollin' And Tumblin' with such ferocity and conviction, plus, the production sucks to such a degree, that just about the only thing that immediately separates Don from Muddy are, of course, the lyrics... Or are they? 'I was born in a desert, came up from New Orleans/Came up on a tornado sunlight in the sky/I went around all day with the moon sticking in my eye'. Hmm. Well, this could certainly pass for prime Robert Johnson as well, come to think of it.

Anyway, whether that first track is tongue-in-cheek or not, the listener is soon plunged into Beefheart's endless stream of pastiches, parodies and kinky gimmicks. The band, so it seems, mostly refuses to play anything other than standard R'n'B melodies that had already become kinda obsolete by 1967, but nobody gives a damn. Of course, it's primarily Beefheart himself that's the main attraction of the record, and it all depends on how blistering his particular performance is. Sometimes it's not blistering at all - for instance, the soulful 'Call On Me' never seems to grab me all that much, and the two tracks that close the album are rather pointless as well. I mean, what's the point of 'Grown So Ugly' if not for the stupid duffer lyrics? The music on that one is hardly sharp, and the production sucks again. And with 'Autumn Child', it seems, Beefheart is going to make a serious statement, with its booming Jefferson Airplane-like chorus, Ray Charles-like vocals and a four-minute running time which is LONG for the album. I don't like it. I suppose it might change some day, but right now there's nothing to get really hooked on, if not for the nagging bass line in the 'faster' part and the strange 'buzzing' sound in the verses - what's that, a mellotron or something?

But the rest of the album is certainly revolutionary. I've never understood exactly why Trout Mask Replica is called a 'blueprint for punk' because it ain't. But several tracks on here are. 'Dropout Boogie', for instance. That one's kinda scary - the only thing about it that's not punk is that it's slow. A mean garage riff, distorted as far as it could really go in 1967, complemented by Don Van Vliet's endless stream of 'animal vocalization'; not even Frank Zappa was able to go as far at that time. And, of course, it took a lot of gall to record a track as blatantly ugly ugly ugly as 'Electricity' - a three-minute multi-part suite with everything, sitars, boogieing guitars, tasty slide, murky vocals, and even bandsaw imitations (I guess). I still get all fidgety and nervous when I hear that 'eeeee-laaaaaaa-ctreeee seee-teeee!' howl. For all it's worth, this might just be the ugliest vocal intonation I've ever heard.

Then there's a couple examples of how Captain Beefheart's twisted mind was interpreting dance music - 'Abba Zaba' is marvelous, and, if I'm not mistaken, one of the first examples of the use of African rhythms in rock music, not to mention that it's miraculously catchy. 'Zig Zag Wanderer', on the other hand, is kinda Stonesy, a chaotic blues-rocker in the vein of 'Empty Heart' or something like that, but far more 'sing-along'-style.

And even the 'minor' successes are quite pleasant to listen to once you've overcome the 'raised eyebrows' factor. I've already dissed 'Call On Me', but I'm tempted to call that one rather a random mistake than proof of Beefheart's inability to do soul: 'I'm Glad' efficiently proves the opposite, with doo-woppy backing vocals reeking of prime Swiss cheese... but, of course, this is all tongue-in-cheek and needn't be taken too seriously. And 'Where There's Woman' is even emotional... kinda. Ooh, that one just gotta be sung by James Brown, it was made for him. Dig those lyrics, too. Was Beefheart serious when he wrote them? Wasn't he? And the Stones get ripped off one more time on the stomping 'Plastic Factory', with its unforgettable harmonica line and that descending riff at the end of each verse. Where Beefheart's backing band certainly loses to the Stones' mastery of the twin-guitar-harmonica bluesy attack, everything is compensated by the Captain's monstruous vocal tonality.

Of course, even with all of its pluses, Safe As Milk is just a debut; Beefheart would go on to better, more unique and eccentric things in the future (like Shiny Beast, I mean), and he's still a wee bit shy (heck, he's even wearing a necktie on the front cover!). But there is a never-mentioned-by-the-typical-critic tendency with debut albums, and that tendency is that they all manage to sound fresher and more exciting, not to mention innovative, than everything that comes after that; and in that respect, Safe As Milk is no exception. Heavily recommended for everybody, not necessarily Beefheart fans.



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

That's further out there than the sixth dimension. Weirdo-blues stripped to its foundations.

Best song: KANDY KORN

Track listing: 1) Tarotplane; 2) 25th Century Quaker; 3) Mirror Man; 4) Kandy Korn; 5) Trust Us (take 6); 6) Safe As Milk (take 12); 7) Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones; 8) Moody Liz (Take 8); 9) Gimme Dat Harp Boy.

This album has a goddamn long history. All of these tracks were recorded by Beefheart and the 'Magic Band' in October/November 1967 and were intended for his second album, to be called Mirror Man. Naturally, though, they were sacked by the record company who sure didn't expect the guy to rev up in his ferocious eccentricity at such a high speed. Still later, in 1968, some of these tracks were patched up by a producer and released in far less 'offensive' form as the Cap'n's second official album, Strictly Personal (without Beefheart's consent either!). Still later, some of the original sessions were taken up and issued in 1975 as Mirror Man, presumably with the aim of restoring Beefheart's spoiled reputation after the two 'disastrously commercial' 1974 albums. Finally, still later, as late as 1999, the entire sessions, or at least, a major part of them, were salvaged and put together on one CD to form this disc. So naturally, this is the one album to have if you're interested in the progressing schizophrenia of Monsieur Coeur-de-Boeuf.

What's out here? Nine tracks, spread over 76 minutes - a stark contrast with the short near-minimalism of Trout Mask Replica. As the album progresses, the average running time of the tracks grows shorter, but the first four of them easily break the ten/twelve/fifteen minute barrier and run even further. And these aren't really complex progressive epics taking you in all possible directions; nope, these are lengthy sprawling blues jams, with two guitars, a harmonica and a mean old (er, young) bearded guy shouting out senseless lyrics about riding on tarotplanes and reformed candy corn. They are not even really 'defiant' as far as typical blues structures go. There's almost no dissonance, even if the guitars aren't exactly meant to easily coordinate with each other; there's a lot of memorable riffs all over the place, and there are no 'solos' in the traditional sense, if you don't count the harmonica.

But dammit, I like this stuff. Now let me see, of course 19 minutes for something as stripped-down as 'Tarotplane' is is a bit TOO long, and the same goes for 'Mirror Man' and '25th Century Quaker'. But they certainly have an aura to them ('kiss my aura, Dora', as ol' Frank would say!), a strange aura of mystery and evilness that can't be transcribed all too well. It certainly has a lot of Beefheart's deconstructive mystification going on - essentially, like on TMR, they're playing this stuff to befuddle and confuse the listener, but it actually works better on here because there's no better way to befuddle and confuse the listener than to entice him with a musical form (generic blues) he thinks he knows too well and then suddenly transform it into a launchpad for something that eccentric. These lengthy jams are essentially grooves. What do we like about grooves? The rhythm. The energy. In a metaphoric sense, a groove is as good as a certain pattern of life. You take upon a groove in the same way as you go through a certain life experience, be it funny, brutal, or sad. And these grooves certainly have that 'pattern' approach to them - only where a typical blues jam can be associated with life as it is, a Beefheart groove should be associated with life as it could be.

If I don't make myself clear, let me just remind you that this is a Captain Beefheart review. What did you expect, some Bay City Rollers algorhythm? If that's the case, I could remind you that '25th Century Quaker' possesses a first-rate slide guitar riff, with a strange Eastern flavor to it, and is thus fit for meditating to it. The best of all these lengthy tracks, though, is 'Kandy Korn', which begins almost as a pop song, with a funny vocal melody and an upbeat poppy bassline, but then goes into this lengthy and very jangly instrumental passage which is downright uplifting after all the subtle evil of the preceding three blues jams.

Then there are five shorter songs which are all in the same vein (i.e., they could all be fifty minutes just as well). 'Safe As Milk', which never made it to the original album, certainly rules... what's that, something like a country-rocker crossed with hard rock patterns? Something like that, ending in a competition to determine the best 'string scraper' for miles around. 'Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones' is supposedly a sneering attack on the meaningless 'psychedelic' lyrics of the Beatles and the Stones circa 1967, although the very idea of a rambling beatnik poet deriding a rambling psychedelic poet might seem kinda queer. At the best, it's WAY subtler and more 'polite' than Zappa's derision of the entire hippie counter-culture. You gotta love the Cap'n singing 'strawberry fields forever', too.

'Moody Liz' and 'Gimme Dat Harp Boy' have their moments, too, and you know what? The mean old Cap'n knows how to attract your attention, because every now and then out of all the trippy jamming jumps out a little pretty riff, like you know, very pretty, the one you could have been waiting for all your life! Like on 'Moody Liz', at 2:15 into the song. And then it goes away and you're waiting for it to come back, and it does! It does!

I'm gonna bring you to a conclusion now, because this review isn't really getting anywhere at all. You might want to know why the album earns a 9 when it sounds nothing like Safe As Milk and is universally deemed inferior to TMR. My irrational answer will be short and will go like this: "because it pleases my inner organs just as much as Safe As Milk and much more than TMR". My rational answer will not be much longer and will go like this: "because it still manages to preserve a good balance between accessible understandable music and eccentric weirdness". That said, you have to grow yourself some tolerance towards long unterminable blues jams. Maybe getting yourself some live Cream albums wouldn't be a bad idea.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The biggest mystification in the history of art-rock. But does it really matter if all this makes sense or not?

Best song: well, I s'pose Beefheart fans spend all their life trying to decide on that one...

Track listing: 1) Frownland; 2) Dust Blows Forward 'N The Dust Blows Back; 3) Dachau Blues; 4) Ella Guru; 5) Hair Pie: Bake 1; 6) Moonlight In Vermont; 7) Pachuco Cadaver; 8) Bills Corpse; 9) Sweet Sweet Bulbs; 10) Neon Meat Dream Of An Octofish; 11) China Pig; 12) My Human Gets Me Blues; 13) Dali's Car; 14) Hair Pie: Bake 2; 15) Pena; 16) Well; 17) When Big Joan Sets Up; 18) Fallin' Ditch; 19) Sugar 'N Spikes; 20) Ant Man Bee; 21) Orange Claw Hammer; 22) Wild Life; 23) She's Too Much For My Mirror; 24) Hobo Chang Ba; 25) Blimp (Mousetrapreplica); 26) Steal Softly Thru Snow; 27) Old Fast At Play; 28) Veteran's Day Poppy.

There's so many people in this world that rant and rave about Trout Mask Replica being the most baffling, the bizarrest, the awkwardest, the most mind-blowing, musically untrivial, generally inaccessible, richly rewarding, perspective-opening album ever that I can't help but say: if ye the reader turn out to have never heard about TMR before (if that's possible), just stop reading this right now and go buy the record (but be sure it's not your first Beefheart purchase; don't dive right in the icy water before cooling down your body, that is). Me, I have read at least a couple hundred reviews of it before actually getting to hear it, and none of Beefheart's surreal avantgardist posings were a big surprise to me. Maybe you just need a fresh unbiased mind to truly dig into this recording.

The warning being made, here come the spoilers. Don Van Vliet had been carefully preparing this album for over a year - what ensued was a double LP with 28 tracks, produced by none other than Mr Frank Zappa himself, whose music aptly fits the definition 'garage rock meets modern jazz' and whose lyrics aptly fit the definition 'certified loon meets deep-thinking Thomas Elliot-respecting verse-writer'. Beefheart's 'Magic Band' might seem worthless punks not knowing how to play until one realizes that they are, in fact, quite dextrous and are creating that cacophony according to the notation marked out by Captain Beefheart himself. And Beefheart himself hardly ever sings; most of the time it sounds as if he's fighting against the melodies with his half-mumbled, half-crooned-out vocals. Which is no surprise considering that he was refusing to wear headphones during the recordings, so he always comes in kinda late to stay in tune with the actual melody - that is, of course, when there is one. Curiously enough, the most 'conventionally melodic' tracks turn out to be the few poetic ramblings which don't feature any music at all: when I'm in the right mood, the funny stupidity of 'Dust Blows Forward' and the ominous menace of 'Well' inspire me more than almost anything on here.

Needless to say, the entire world of music lovers is separated into those who hate the record, calling it a big piece of self-conscious trash, and those who worship it, claiming it really opens their mind like nothing else. After which the first group of guys accuses the second one of wanting to sound 'elitist' and 'snubby', willing to deceive oneself just for the sake of it, and the second group of guys accuses the first of being way too limited and unwilling to ever expand their horizons to some really 'serious' music. And the debate goes on...

What's my two cents on Trout Mask Replica, then? Hard to say. As in every such debate, I prefer to straddle the fence - let the diehard fans or anti-fans bleed me beat me kill me, but the moderate gentlemen (which the world is actually revolving on) will probably be more understanding.

By all means, Trout Mask Replica is a joke - or a 'mystification', if you prefer. It's not unprecedented: after all, Beefheart the joker took his cues from his good old pal Frank Zappa and certain other freaky artists. But it's probably the grandest and most flawlessly and intelligently executed mystification in music as a whole, or rock music at least: a grandiose, 79-minute project, with specially trained musicians, thought out lyrics and actually a lot of care thrown into the whole project. The most successful mystification is the one that stands the closest to the truth, isn't it? But it's still a mystification. Beefheart's lyrics are fun, but for the most part they're dadaist and sound good just for the sake of sounding good; when he goes for something a little sharper, like his thoughts on World War Two in 'Dachau Blues', he shows that he can be goofy and serious at the same time, but that's very rarely the point. And the music?

You know, it's funny - it's quite predictable, of course, that ninety-nine percent of the positive personal reviews of this album I've read say things like 'I hated it at first, but something clicks after a few listens'; however, NOT A SINGLE ONE of these reviews actually tells us what exactly is supposed to click. I get it that the 'Magic band' guitarists, brass players, and drummers are actually playing twisted, bizarre melodies, and from time to time a discernible riff is thrown in to make the listener not feel completely lost. Tracks like 'China Pig' are almost generic blues tunes, for Chrissake! And I wouldn't even mind to have a taster of such stuff from time to time, just because everybody needs a little weirdness in his life. But the style throughout is horrendously uniform - I mean, it's all right when you have to sit through that buzz for five minutes, but if you want to enjoy eighty minutes of it in one go you gotta have, or at least grow yourself, a peculiar love for the style.

And I just don't quite understand why should one bother. These tunes aren't catchy, like a pop song should be, and they aren't powerful, like a rock song should be. They aren't emotionally resonant, like an inspired confessional number should be, and they aren't atmospheric, like a good mood number should be. Rare exceptions are rare exceptions. 'Veteran's Day Poppy' is a really cool thing, for instance. It's the tune that finishes the record on a somewhat more restrained note: the melody is just as twisted as everything else, but it's that neat little relaxating guitar dingus that feels good on your nerves after all that jive. Also, like I said, 'China Pig' is a groovy variation on a generic blues tune; and songs like 'Ella Guru', the jerky 'Moonlight In Vermont', and the exclusive rave-up of 'When Big Joan Sets Up' are all winners. Also, if there is something supposed to 'click' after a few listens, it might be the realization that many of these numbers are potential wonderful pop/rock numbers - it's just that Beefheart takes a good melody and intentionally fucks it up. The opening 'Frownland', for instance (another highlight), could be a terrific melancholic anthem, and 'Steal Softly Thru Snow' could be a good 'philosophical rocker'.

One has to admire Beefheart's tenacity - a dude who's obviously a skilful musician, composer, and lyricist (and in some ways he's even better than Zappa - he's capable of deep sincere sentiment, for instance, which Zappa obviously wasn't capable of), rejects all kinds of conventionality and sacrifices possible fame and success for this underground career of his. And I don't want to doubt the fact that Trout Mask Replica was really a seminal record - implanting the seeds of all stuff like punk and even New Wave years before that stuff took seed in the minds of the average music listener. But personal admiration and historical importance is one thing, and enjoyability is another.

Mind you, I'm not saying I dislike the record. But I'm not going to pretend I'm a 'fan' when deep down inside I don't feel like it. And I don't have the least intention of joining the obvious chorus of yeahsayers who seem to think that putting this record on a pedestal really places them above the average intelligent listener. Especially since none of them was ever capable of actually explaining what this record is about in the first place. Oh sure, it's very cool to boast about having an album with not a single 'normal' chord progression on it, but isn't that just a very cheap and banal way of levelling yourself above the ground?

And, just to show you that I'm absolutely not biased towards Beefheart, please read my review of Bat Chain Puller - an album where there is far more of a perfect balance between weirdness, enjoyability and imaginative songwriting than on Trout Mask Replica.

PS. Looking back a few years later, I think the rating does need to be raised from an 8/10 to a 9/11: after all, the Captain functions according to his own twisted logic, and rating this with the most "neutrally good" of ratings is not as much an 'insult' as it is just a little bit misleading. Just doesn't get across the idea of the "grandest mystification on Earth", which I'm still clinging to. Besides, that way I don't have to deal with ardent Captain followers crucifying me for rating Bluejeans And Moonbeams with the same number.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Good idiosyncratic "Beefsound" on this one - the only problem is with the melodies.


Track listing: 1) I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby; 2) White Jam; 3) Blabber 'n' Smoke; 4) When It Blows Its Stacks; 5) Alice In Blunderland; 6) The Spotlight Kid; 7) Click Clack; 8) Grow Fins; 9) There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage; 10) Glider.

This record is currently mostly marketed on 2-fer CD, together with Clear Spot, which on one hand makes the entire CD something of a chore to sit through (considering that both albums sound more or less the same), on the other hand, makes up for a really great buy if you program out whatever you consider to be filler.

In any case, this early 1972 release catches Beefheart in a really good state and is quite justly considered an important landmark album. Continuing the line he'd explored on previous records, Beefheart is consistently neglecting the melodic side: speaking music-wise, this stuff isn't all that weird, but it's also not terribly memorable. This is particularly obvious on the rather lacklustre instrumental 'Alice In Blunderland' - a solid jam showcasing the dexterity of the Magic Band members, but hardly anything more. The good thing is that all the music sounds tight and energetic, with garage style guitar solos abounding and distorted riffs chugging all over the place; so the lack of memorability can be at least compensated by the sheer brutality and monstruosity of most of the instrumental work.

However, a whole album of 'Alice In Blunderland' type o' songs would be impossible to sit through; Kid's main centerpiece is Beefheart himself, and speaking in terms of 'personality', this is Beefheart's most interesting and entertaining album I've heard so far. Shiny Beast is superior in the musical sense, and Safe As Milk balances on the thin line between weird and mad more efficiently, but Kid features some of Beefheart's best vocal deliveries ever, and wins through atmosphere.

At least half, if not more, of these tracks are absolute keepers for eternity. Starting, of course, with the immortal classic 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby'. The rhythm section starts it off with a gloomy, creepy double guitar interplay, and the song boogies along like hell even before the Cap'n steps in himself to make the song his own with his gloomy, creepy vocal impersonation; one could have sworn it's his own unique take on 'Midnight Rambler' - repetitive, psychedelic, dark and ultimately tongue-in-cheek. But a person not too used to the Cap'n's gruesome vocal attacks will certainly get all fidgety at the way he alternates roaring, blabbering, stuttering and "hoarse falsettos" during the song's four and a half minutes. 'You lose your push when you beat around the bush, I'm gonna booglarize you baby'...

Right after scaring you to death with that number, though, Beefheart pulls a very convincing white-eyed idiot on 'White Jam', a song with very obscure sexual connotations (I guess). Anyway, his howlings of 'bring me my jam, oh I don't know where I am' gotta rank as some of the most brilliant 'idiotic vocals' ever captured on record.

Beefheart the Lunatic then gives way to Beefheart the Complaining Blighter on 'Blabber 'N' Smoke', a wonderful xylophone led slab of melancholy and unsatisfiedness, before giving way to Beefheart the Self-Proclaimed Prophet on the ominous 'When It Blows Its Stacks', one of the most solid heavy rockers on the entire record with some immaculate riffage.

These four numbers pretty much set the mood for the entire album: Beefheart gives full freedom to his band members, but he's obviously intent on making this record his own, a record of inspired vocal styles rather than a record of experimental music. After the misfiring 'Alice In Blunderland' it kinda goes downhill, though; none of the tunes on the second side are as immediately striking as the ones on the first side, probably because of the loss of the novelty factor. It must be noted, however, that it's particularly interesting to notice this album's dependance on the blues pattern: 'When It Blows Its Stacks', in particular, seems to be deeply influenced by Muddy Waters' 'Rollin' Stone', with the same type of grim delivery and endlessly repeating lines in the verses. Likewise, 'Click Clack' has a very bluesy harmonica (including train-imitating phrases, a trick often used in traditional blues numbers); and 'Grow Fins' is a pure blues number with minor variations.

The only true classic on the second side, though, mood-wise, at least, is the murky, depressing 'There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage' - the brilliant title actually says it all, and the lyrics are utterly pessimistic, delivering a double-punch attack together with the heavy rhythm and the 'apocalyptic harmonica'. Fortunately, the record closes off not with 'Santa Claus', but with the somewhat more 'generic' bluesy number 'Glider' that gives you time to cool down before turning off the record... or going on to Clear Spot, if you have the 2-fer CD.

In all, this is an album very typical of Beefheart, and again, far superior to TMR in all and every respect: the lyrics are cooler, the melodies (or rather, the rhythm tracks) are more accessible but with significant amounts of weirdness thrown in, and Beefheart's vocals rule. Gee, I never thought there'd come a day when I'd say that... He looks pretty cool on the CD cover, too - I always thought the goatee was just a Zappa rip-off (did they make a conspiracy in their childhood to wear one or what?), but he's dressed up way cool.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

More of the same, with far fewer memorable spots.

Best song: LOW YO YO STUFF

Track listing: 1) Low Yo Yo Stuff; 2) Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man; 3) Too Much Time; 4) Circumstances; 5) My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains; 6) Sun Zoom Spark; 7) Clear Spot; 8) Crazy Little Thing; 9) Long Neck Bottles; 10) Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles; 11) Big Eyed Beans From Venus; 12) Golden Birdies.

This record was probably intended as a sequel to Spotlight Kid, considering the presence of the word 'spot' in both titles and the fact that they're now always being together on one CD (not to mention that they were both released months apart in 1972 and the songs probably date from the same sessions). Furthermore, this is proved by the fact that both records sound nearly identic. I've read somewhere that Clear Spot was more bluesy, while Spotlight Kid showcased the 'Beefheart essence' more openly, but I can't really put my facsimile on that document, if you know what I mean. There was plenty of blues on Kid, and there's plenty of the 'Beefheart essence' on Clear Spot.

If there are any differences at all, it's that Clear Spot is a little bit more diverse and intricately produced than the rough Kid, with its stripped down arrangements and basic instrumentation. Clear Spot adds up some more instruments, primarily a brass section on many of the tracks; and Clear Spot also adds some pretty balladeering, including female backup vocals and stuff. The problem is, few of the songs make such an unforgettable impact on me as the ones from Kid did.

I mean, yeah, well... it's hard to explain when the two albums are so similar, but Clear Spot isn't so much 'personality-based' as its predecessor. Kid almost was a 'concept' album, and Spot is rather just a disjointed collection of songs. The novelty factor has worn off completely, too, and the amount of filler is growing: when Beefheart doesn't contribute something really fabulous to spice up a song, it just fades away. For instance, it's cool to have a song with the title 'My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains' hanging around, but it has no hooks whatsoever for Chrissake, unless you're just enchanted with the way Beefheart does 'ballads'. I'm not; ballad or no ballad, this is still 'weird', and I prefer my 'weirdness' to focus around rockers, not presumably pretty stuff (I go all nutty when somebody proclaims Beefheart's early ballads as 'beautiful' - I mean, come on, all these songs are tongue-in-cheek, and how can real beauty be tongue-in-cheek? Real beauty's gotta be sincere), especially since there's nothing particularly pretty about this stuff.

Unfortunately, not all of the rockers work either. It's always pleasant to listen to the Magic Band when they're actually playing real music and building up real R&B jams, but on top of that Beefheart often forgets to put something original, and many of the numbers can be described as just "generic Magic Band raving-up" ('Sun Zoom Spark', 'Crazy Little Thing', 'Long Neck Bottles', etc.). Not enough distinctive tunes, if you know what I mean - and this is especially evident if you listen to both albums in a row, assuming that the second one is indeed a sequel to the first.

Still, all of these complaints are just quantitative - I don't want to put Clear Spot down as a whole. It also contains a couple legitimate Beefheart classics; the best known song from here seems to be the psychedelic 'Big Eyed Beans From Venus', and it's quite frightening, not to mention the most genial lyrics on the album - 'Distant cousins, limited supply/And we're down to the dozens and this is why/Big eyed beans from Venus, oh my oh my... Big eyed beans from Venus, don't let anything get in between us'. Wonderful rhymes and cool first impression - I've always thought that the lyrics again have some sexual connotations (aren't the 'big eyed beans' supposed to have something to do with, ahem, well, you know what?), and the ol' Cap'n seems to have really perked up while singing the song, while the Magic Band plays a real thunderstorm.

My absolute favourite, though, is the album opener 'Low Yo Yo Stuff', a good companion to 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby' in the 'terrorizing' department. One can only guess what's the actual meaning of 'low yo yo stuff', but it sure ain't something very good, and anyway, the best part about the song is the ominous riff played to the 'fast go fast, slow go slow' part, with the cool percussion beats and all.

Minor successes on here also include 'Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles', with a wonderful echoey faraway riff and a strange mystico-sentimental mood throughout; and was that a mandolin I heard in the chorus? 'Too Much Time' is pretty catchy, although, like I said, I'm not the biggest fan of Beefheart's ballads, and 'Circumstances' is pretty heavy for a Beefheart record, like a huge metallic slab placed on the top of a rather fragile building.

And, well, forget it, none of the songs are bad. It's just that it's extremely hard to rate consistent Beefheart albums because the criteria according to which you rate them differ seriously from criteria for other artists. You can't really judge Clear Spot according to the principle 'this is catchy, this is not'. Some riffs and vocal passages do stick out more than others, but it's all extremely relative. And atmosphere-wise and lyrics-wise, apart from a couple stupid ballads, these songs all qualify; they're just not as "personality-filled" as the ones on Kid. To put it short, I did get the impression that Beefheart really lived through his material on Kid, but on Clear Spot he's just a witty entertainer, albeit - I give - a rather weird one. So I still give Clear Spot a good rating, but it's easy to see how this album actually heralded the infamous mid-Seventies period for Beefheart, when, according to his fans, he put out some of his weakest music ever.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Beefheart goes "mainstream"? Okay, Beefheart goes "sentimental" for sure, but "sentimental Beefheart" <> "mainstream"...

Best song: PEACHES

Track listing: 1) Upon The My-O-My; 2) Sugar Bowl; 3) New Electric Ride; 4) Magic Be; 5) Happy Love Song; 6) Full Moon Hot Sun; 7) I Got Love On My Mind; 8) This Is The Day; 9) Lazy Music; 10) Peaches.

Since its release and up to the present day, legions of Beefheart fans throughout the world have been mercilessly declaring war on this album (and even more on its follow-up, Blue Jeans & Moonbeams). Most of them simply pretend that it never existed, shunning the very fact of its availability, hating it with a passion the likes of which I have very rarely met - okay, maybe rabid Tull fans hate Under Wraps with more or less the same force, but that's about the only analogy I can think of. Even official and half-official Beefheart sites turn it down, and I've been hard pressed to find a complete set of lyrics for it anywhere on the Web.

It's easy to see why, of course. The Captain had certainly been going in a more 'accessible' direction since Trout Mask Replica; if not for the bizarro lyrics, in fact, and the controversial singing, that last pair of records could have been greeted by just about anybody. However, Unconditionally Guaranteed further takes yet another giant step in the direction of 'mainstreaming' Beefheart's image: it is basically a rather simple album of love songs, with mostly inoffensive, 'normal' melodies, heavily borrowing on pop and only occasionally moving away into more intricate spheres. Not only that, it features Beefheart at his least compelling since, well, ever: his voice is in surprisingly bad form (he mostly just howls like a dying dog throughout), probably due to "outer substances" abuse, and the songs are produced in a negligent and unassuming way. Nothing dangerous or ominous here, just a hoarse guy barking his way through a set of ungrappling melodies. No wonder the Cap'n got slammed so hard in his face for releasing this; the self-indulgent 'warning' on the front cover, with quotes like 'could be harmful to closed minds' and 'not responsible for other levels of consciousness obtained through audio-reception' almost seems like a self-parody - sure, it came at least five years late, since this kind of "sticker" would have been most appropriate for Trout Mask Replica. On the other hand, the remark about 'all songs having been hand made and custom finished especially with You, the individual, in mind' does hint somewhat more successfully at the current state of things.

That said, I certainly don't hate the album, even if I'm not willing to defend it at all costs from the bazooka-armed fans. In fact, I don't see anything particularly disgusting in having Beefheart "mainstreaming" his approach. As we all know (or should know), the difference between 'mainstream' and 'alternative' (or whatever it is called) is really far less obvious and concise than some people prefer to make it, and it is very easy to draw a straight, gradual line between TMR, Spotlight Kid and this one; it'd be hard for me to tell where exactly the 'mainstream' mark sets in. Not to mention that we should cut the crap anyway: Unconditionally Guaranteed certainly is not mainstream, simply because I can't imagine any housewife listening to this stuff. First of all, there's the problem of Beefheart's voice - it is really hard to tolerate in general and particularly on here. Second, while the melodies are indeed more accessible, they are still miles away from the candy pop of the Carpenters or whoever: mostly guitar-based, often rather rough on the ears, with jazzy and avantgarde overtones. Third, not all of the songs are here are all that sentimental - 'Upon The My-O-My' and 'Peaches', for instance, the ones that bookmark the album, certainly aren't.

My main problem with most of the stuff here is as follows: I never really cared that much for Beefheart's sentimentality in any form. I have nothing against avantgarde as long as it is intriguing and imaginative, but putting the avantgarde mark on sentimental songs is something way too kinky. It's one thing to make a parody of a love song destined to make people laugh; but turns out that stuff like 'I Got Love On My Mind' or 'Happy Love Song' pretends to be serious stuff - as were all those soulful 'ballads' on Safe As Milk, for instance. Forgive me, but when a guy who sounds like he's dying of laryngitis takes up a forceful soulful beat and begins howling out stuff like 'make me feel all ri-i-i-i-i-...AWWW- AWW-ight...', I can't take this as anything else but a perversion and a violation of basic human laws. It really doesn't work for me, and shouldn't work for anybody else. The only song on here where Beefheart sounds normal in this respect is 'This Is The Day', and you can immediately feel the difference: I count this as one of the album's best numbers, with a deep, intoxicating groove based on beautiful guitar arpeggios and moody organ playing, and for once, Beefheart's vocals really sound majestic and moving. Maybe he took an extra anti-cough pill that day.

Still, speaking from a pure melodical point of view, I can't find any true problems with the melodies on here, apart from the fact that none of them grab me all that much - the hooks lie in the vocal section more than in the instrumental one, as is usual with Beefheart, which is naturally the source of all trouble. I mean, with better vocals both the jazzy, relaxed, pleasant 'Lazy Music' and the plaintive 'Magic Bee' could have been real highlights; as such, they're just tolerable and relatively enjoyable. My absolute favourite, though, is the closing number - the excellent 'Peaches', with its stinging guitar riff and main stomping rhythm, it has far more energy than most of the other numbers on here, and the chorus is dazzlingly catchy. Featuring good ol' Captain in our favourite "naughty" mood.

Ah well, you can't stay a weirdo all of your life: you gotta understand, such things wear down on you. Ol' Frank Zappa somehow managed to stand that and never 'lose touch' for even a minute - Mr Van Vliet did not. It's up to the graceful listener to decide whether it was a sign of weakness or a sign of true human nature shining through. Probably both.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Well... Guess this is the most "mainstream" he did get, after all. But me likes it.


Track listing: 1) Party Of Special Things To Do; 2) Same Old Blues; 3) Observatory Crest; 4) Pompadour Swamp; 5) Captain's Holiday; 6) Rock'n'Roll's Evil Doll; 7) Further Than We've Gone; 8) Twist Ah Luck; 9) Bluejeans And Moonbeams.

I was all itchy and quitchy and feelin' kinda bitchy about how I'm gonna break this one to everybody - then I read somewhere that according to rumours, Kate Bush really really likes this album, and this boosted my confidence to unprecedented levels. With this support, I can come straight out of the closet and say goddammit, this is a good record.

Again, it's easy to see why it flopped: once again, the Cap'n tried to make a serious compromise between "commercialness" and his usual style, and instead of successfully marrying both, ended up completely alienating his old fans and never gaining himself any new ones. But I respect the effort, and find the album almost completely listenable; if not for two or three downright undigestible moments which I'll get around to in a few instants, I seriously dig the hell out of it. Treat it with an open mind, like a person interested in music rather than in finding himself another clone of Trout Mask Replica, and maybe you'll do the same. Or maybe I'm a dumbass, because I clearly don't see a third solution.

The album actually opens with a promising note for all Beefheart fans: "the camel wore a nightie...", he growls in his usual tone, " the party of special things to do-o-o-o-o!". Then, a menacing and gruff bluesy guitar intro, and in comes a track that could have easily fit onto Clear Spot or even The Spotlight Kid; not any earlier, though, because the laws of melody and harmony are way too closely observed. No-one in his right mind would call this classic-style Beefheart rambling "commercial", though. Sure, the so-called "Magic Band" in its latest and newest incarnation gets a good swampy groove going on, and the Cap'n growls and grunts in tune, but hey, these vocals are even less commercial than Tom Waits at his very very "worst", and as usual, there's not much 'direction' to the track.

That said, it turns out to be rather atypical of the album. Other than 'Party Of Special Things To Do', it's just a collection of ballads, blues, and moderate pop-rockers, all of which do have a sense of 'direction' and some of which could indeed be commercial singles, had somebody else but Beefheart recorded 'em. He even "stoops" to doing covers, one of which is pretty damn good, and the other a total disaster. J. J. Cale's 'Same Old Blues' is given a convincing and actually emotional reading; after all, let's not forget that Beefheart is a devoted bluesman at heart, and not even the somewhat lame synth-propped background can push down the enjoyability factor. And come to think of it, I can't imagine anybody better fit to cover J. J. Cale than Captain Beefheart, not even Eric Clapton; one weird isolated guy deserves another.

The other track is a horror, though. Yes, I mean the wretched 'Captain's Holiday', arguably the stinkiest piece to be associated with Beefheart's name. A semi-instrumental number (the only lyrics are cheesy female backing vocals chanting 'ooh captain captain, lay your burden down' or something like that in the background) in the worst cabaret tradition, with proto disco overtones to it, it doesn't even fit in with this album, let alone the rest of Beefheart's output. Listening to it, I almost feel like the next step for Beefheart would be recording porn soundtracks or something, and I get visions of cheap trashy musicals with the Captain in a glitzy outfit surrounded by "pretty birds all in a row". It's not even funny, unless you mean in the cheapest, campiest way imaginable, with rolls of behind-the-screen laughter added, and it takes the sadly underrated and utterly hilaritious 'Rock'n'Roll's Evil Doll' that follows it to cure me of the sensation that I've just been drenched in liquid skunk faeces. If 'Captain's Holiday' had the misfortune to be the first track on the record, I would have easily understood all the critics - halfway through, you get a serious urge to throw this shit away and never listen to another second of the whole album.

Fortunately, it isn't, and this gives a chance to get a better glimpse at the passable/good stuff. Like 'Observatory Crest', for instance, which is a pretty nice, soothing, relaxed three-minute ballad with subtle keyboard action and a bit of echo on the guitars attenuating the unexpectedly smooth and caring overtones in the Captain's voice - look, when he sings his ballads in a normal human tone, I really have nothing against them. Even the Captain's harshest critics have a nice thing or two to say about 'Observatory Crest'. The other "major" ballad on the album, 'Further Than We've Gone', unfortunately, continues the Phenomenal Laryngitis Ballad Tradition, but is redeemed by the lengthy instrumental section, with Dean Smith adding a surprisingly pretty guitar solo - inventive, emotional, and extremely well-constructed. Well, I guess it's "soft-rockish", but hey, I take good guitar solos even when they're offered by the likes of the Eagles, so I needn't bother. The important thing is to take that solo and cut off the beginning and ending of the song. That's the trick, baby!

Another definite overlooked highlight is the title track. Okay, it's a country ballad. But it's a good country ballad! It has a few lines that sound funnily Dylan-like ('I know there's many thaings I've never seen', for instance), and a few refrains that sound like Pete Seeger crossed with Jonny Cash, and I think it's catchy and mildly moving. There's also a slide guitar line out there that makes my heart sink every time - George Harrison would renounce the Maharishi for a guitar line like that.

Of course, I shouldn't conceal the fact that even the Captain himself completely denounces this (and the preceding) record now, which means someday they'll likely go out of print forever. But maybe not. Maybe time will be kind to the music and Bluejeans And Moonbeams will not be stricken out of the records. It would be a historical unfairness to do that, anyway. And personally, I feel that these two albums are much more important for the Captain's legacy than they're usually thought of: they clearly demonstrate that the "abyss" between weirdness and accessibility is, in fact, only a few short steps long, and that an overall study of the back catalogs of artists like Beefheart shows such a distinction might, in fact, be less important to the artists themselves than to their fans.



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Relatively accessible for Beefheart, and since the melodies are interesting, I can't see why you wouldn't want to taste this.

Best song: ICE ROSE

Track listing: 1) The Floppy Boot Stomp; 2) Tropical Hot Dog Night; 3) Ice Rose; 4) Harry Irene; 5) You Know You're A Man; 6) Bat Chain Puller; 7) When I See Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy; 8) Owed T'Alex; 9) Candle Mambo; 10) Love Lies; 11) Suction Prints; 12) Apes-Ma.

Like I said: it would perhaps be wiser, if you're interested in our good old freak Captain Beefheart, not to start from the legendary Trout Mask Replica, but from some other, not as distinct, place. And if you're ready, we'll go steady and make an emphasis on 1978's Shiny Beast (or Bat Chain Puller - the album actually sports two titles), an album that some regard as the Captain's finest moment, too.

1978 was a good year for Don Van Vliet - he put together an updated version of his Magic Band (with Richard Redus and Jeff Moris Tepper on guitars, Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards, Bruce Fowler on some brass and Robert Williams on drums) and after several relatively 'conventional' albums in the mid-Seventies returned to his trademark beat poetry and twisted melodies. The album was recorded under supervision of Frank Zappa himself, but due to various technical problems (including Zappa's conflict with his manager), the original record, entitled Bat Chain Puller, had to be re-recorded two years later and released in 1980 as Shiny Beast which is still its main title. And the fans rejoiced...

And I rejoice, too, as Shiny Beast is indeed a very good record. While Beefheart's rambling deliveries are just as surreal, often humorous and witty as ever, not to mention that he's in good voice throughout, it's the thoroughly inoffensive, yet intelligent and thought-provoking character of the melodies that attracts me the most. Van Vliet is usually considered a bluesy type of musician, yet Shiny Beast is not bluesy at all - not that it's necessarily an advantage, of course (I have nothing against blues), but it just goes to show that the Captain really had a solid mastery of styles. Music-wise, this is an upbeat, fun album, with a lot of dance-style tunes and even some retro throwbacks, and even if the melodies aren't very catchy, they are quite pleasant to the ear.

A couple of the songs are pure instrumentals - both of them good, solid jazz-fusion compositions very much in the Zappa vein. 'Ice Rose', in fact, is simply wonderful and easily matches Frank's best efforts in the genre (again, that goes to show how much Beefheart is really underrated as a composer). The gentle vibes and slightly disturbing sax provide some great atmospheric feelings and are, indeed, very 'flowery' to the ear. And 'Suction Prints' is a fast piece of 'experimental boogie' - that's the only way I can describe the number, with tasty guitarwork throughout (the opening bit of slide playing alone is unlike anything I've ever heard before) and a very specific drive, as if you were listening to a desperate drunkard trying to blooze his way through a rock'n'roll.

As for the vocal numbers, I generally feel torn in between the 'ugly' ones and the 'pretty' ones. Problem is, I can hardly stand Beefheart's voice when he's making it deliberately ugly, but, on the other hand, some of the songs featuring this kind of 'ugly' singing are undoubtedly the best on the album, like, for instance, the crazy Latin-tinged dance number 'Tropical Hot Dog Night'. Ever heard a Latin dance number accompanied by an ugly old freak chanting weird bits of pseudo-beat poetry in a hoarse voice? 'I'm playin' this song/For all the young girls to come out to meet the monster tonight/Meet the monster tonight/How would you like to be the lucky girl/The lucky one?' Pretty scary. Or the dangerous 'blues-rocker' 'You Know You're A Man'? Music-wise, it rules; the band gels together amazingly well, and these dudes have enough jamming power to carry the melody to its glorious conclusion without paying much attention to whatever vocals Captain Beefheart actually overdubs. (I gotta admit his 'ha-ha-ha-ha' on 'Owed T'Alex' really send shivers down my spine, though.)

So in general, if you feel like vomiting when hearing the Cap'n's vocals, just don't pay attention to them and concentrate on the music itself. It's energetic and driving, and not self-indulgent by any means: a big difference from some of Zappa's similar albums, where much too often I get the feeling that the band members are mainly showing off. Here, all the players manage to be totally ambitionless and absolutely professional at the same time, and this makes up for some really enticing music. 'When I See Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy' gotta have to be one of the weirdest, most strangely perverse melodies in existence, and I can't even determine the genre myself.

Plus, the songs where Mr Van Vliet adopts a 'normal' vocal tone and where nothing prevents me from enjoying the show as a whole are a total gas. 'Harry Irene' is a beautiful, smile-inducing lounge piano pop sendup - you know, a special tribute to the Twenties, embellished with retro accordeon and retro whistling as well. And 'Love Lies' is kinda bluesy, too, but it's a different kind of blues: the 'oldest' kind of blues, the kind of blues that's actually jazz and that has little to do with Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. Sad, moody, lethargic and pessimistic, and ideally suited for Beefheart's vocals, too.

And yeah, the album does have its fair share of weak spots - both 'Bat Chain Puller' and 'The Floppy Boot Stomp' do very little for me, for instance, because they're both in the same style as 'You Know You're A Man', only less distinctive - but there's not a single really bad number on here, and the band's overall energy will definitely prevent you from falling asleep. And just in order to intrigue you a little, I think I'll finish up this review by citing the lyrics of the closing number - a brief snippet of 'philosophical monologue' called 'Apes-Ma':

'Apes-Ma, Apes-Ma, remember when you were young Apes-Ma? And you used to break out of your cage? Well you know that you're not strong enough to do that anymore now and Apes-Ma... The little girl that named you years ago died now and you're older. Apes-Ma, remember when she named you and it was in the paper, Apes-Ma? Apes-Ma, Apes-Ma, you're eating too much and going to the bathroom too much, Apes-Ma. And Apes-Ma, your cage isn't getting any bigger, Apes-Ma...'

Now that one sure makes you think. Now doesn't it?


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