April 11, 2002

Ed's Undergroung

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Strange as hell and proud of it, Captain Beefheart is perhaps the only man to ever outweird his mentor, Frank Zappa. Trout Mask Replica, a bizarre, all-over-the-map double-album released in 1969, remains Beefheart’s defining statement to this day. The album is an audacious attempt to merge blues with avant-garde jazz. Beefheart certainly comes up with a new style here, something that is neither rock nor jazz, but some strange in-between hybrid.

Beefheart’s distinctive — the less charitable might say “bad” — voice growls out surrealist images in a seemingly stream-of-consciousness fashion, his vocals often not fitting at all with the spastic music. It would be difficult to pick individual moments out of this fluid, 28-song construction; the whole thing flows so well, and Beefheart’s manic vision is so carefully realized, that it’s perhaps the most consistent album ever.

On the instrumental “Hair Pie: Bake 1,” atonal sax screeches start soloing, and slowly build to a rhythmic freakout led by repetitive dual guitars. “Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish” is a perfect example of Beefheart’s unique absurdist poetry. He seems to throw out free-associated phrases that have absolutely nothing to do with the funky, fractured jazz workout of the Magic Band. On “Well,” Beefheart’s deep, throaty vocals take center stage on an a capella song that sounds like an old slave spiritual — albeit with lyrics like “my mind cracked like cluster/ ran red until it sealed/ turned to wood and rolled like a wheel well well well.” “Ant Man Bee” is surprisingly soulful, and it might be the only song here that could be said to “swing” in anything near the traditional jazz sense.

Nothing could possibly ever sum up the unique sounds of this dazzlingly complex record. All I can say in conclusion is, I dare you to give this a listen; you’ll never think the same way about music again.

Archived article by Ed Howard