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9 October 2009

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band - 'Strictly Personal' (Blue Thumb)

Strictly Personal is always a bit savaged in the record guides, claiming that Bob Krasnow ruined it with his overtly 'crazy' production. I used to think this was nonsense and that Strictly Personal was underrated, great even -- but listening now I agree that Krasnow is to blame for whatever is lacking here. This isn't so much because it's whacked out with reverb and flange (cause those parts are cool, like some dub-blues-psych hybrid) but because the production is just bad. If you listen to the first part of 'Trust Us', the drums sound like they're being played underwater (though not in a good way), and the whole performance feels like the highs and lows have been sucked out, leaving only a gross-timbred middle section. I understand that the technique of rock music production wasn't as developed in 1968 but given how many other amazing records came out at this time , I don't why they couldn't get this one right. Again, it's a shame because Don's songwriting has developed another stage in its complexity, with some proto-Trout Mask brilliance. 'Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man' is one work of genius, even despite the mismatched levels and farty bass sound. I've always wondered about that title - is 'Mere Man' the name of Mirror Man's son, or is this song about the son of someone named 'Mirror Man-Mere Man'? This song though enters a new realm of melting ice cream on the hoods of racecars - a realm opened just earlier with the bendy overlapping end of 'Trust Us'. Side two opens with 'On Tomorrow', a dark screaming song that melts into the sublime 'Beetle Bones n' Smokin' Stones', a taste of the animal-deranged vocal stylings that the good Captain later became famous for. The Mirror Man Sessions CD has the better, longer, unaffected versions of a lot of these tracks (like 'Kandy Korn') and overall is a better listen -- probably one that renders Strictly Personal obsolete -- but we'll get there on the Cinderblock tip soon enough. The good moments here are great though and it's certainly a transitional work. Though the Beefheartian vibe is true California all the way, I manage to incorrectly assign a imagistic geography that places it in some weird South that may actually be under the surface of the Earth's crust. Certainly the bluesy deconstructions are responsible for this, but they weren't consciously thinking about deconstruction when creating these records (at least I hope not!) so maybe that's why it actually rocks pretty hard.

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