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6 October 2009

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band - 'Safe as Milk' (Buddah)

Here's an eccentricity of my filing - I file Beefheart records under B, not under C. Usually I go by surname, ie: Roy Harper under H, with exceptions if the name is fake (Henry Cow does not go under C). By this logic Captain Beefheart is a C, yet I just so completely think of them as "Beefheart" records that B is what's natural. Safe as Milk is pretty visionary, if not totally 'unfuckwithable'. Part of what makes it great is the uncertainty of that vision. Here we have nascent Van Vliet which is the first of many periods. Nascent, then Singular (Trout Mask + Decals of course), then Fumbling (to which I'd even add The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot to the two that everyone disowns) and then that wonderful late period Rebirth. Safe as Milk lurches around between post-garage tunes teetering on the edge of novelty ('Yellow Brick Road') to absolute scorchers ('Electricity', 'Zig Zag Wanderer'), with a few diversions into balladry ('When There's Woman', and 'I'm Glad' which is like Tom Jones channeled through the ol' brickbats). And then songs that seem to fall in-between, like 'Autumn's Child'. Many of these songs are a lot more complex than you would think, full of changes and weird melodic movements, but it still sounds 'direct' (probably because I'm comparing it to Trout Mask). 'Electricity' has this squealing guitar that sounds like a theremin or something, and it pops up throughout the song, which is one of those details I try to listen for when hearing a record I've heard a bunch of times before. There's a cloud of 60's production haze around these songs that Beefheart never really revisited; Strictly Personal goes off the deep end with studio effects and then the 60's were over, weren't they? I like that - at times you could almost imagine these cuts alongside something by Love, maybe on a California radio station.

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