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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. 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. And finally, he’s got a composer’s gift, believe it or not. 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. 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. 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. 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. Any more than a “one” in that department would be an insult to the good Captain. This doesn’t require much explaining, does it?
Well uh I guess it’s somewhere around this level. Not exactly as much as Zappa, but he did explore several different styles. Barely, though, so Zappa still sorta wins over. R’n’B taken to the sixth dimension – whoever thought such things could be done to the old blues masters? 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?
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. 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. That one’s kinda scary – the only thing about it that’s not punk is that it’s slow. 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.