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11 October 2009

Captan Beefheart and His Magic Band - 'Trout Mask Replica' (Reprise)

It feels like the Underbite has hit on a bunch of classic/infallible/etc. albums lately but looking back it's really just this and Pet Sounds. But I should stick to my policy of trying to actually say something new, worthwhile and (I guess) personal about these rather than repeating clichés and foregone conclusions. So what can I actually draw from listening to this, for the millionth time? The words flow by like a river, albeit one very familiar; pause button edit techniques recall Gyson but i think of Anton Bruhin dancing with Charles Olson. I used to listen to this and be amazed at the logical patterns that emerge, for example the ending rodeo of 'Pachuco Cadaver'. Now I just try to feel it - it's all about Drumbo for me tonight. The Captain may have been pissed off at John French (leaving him off the credits) but at least he was smart enough to keep him prominent in the mix. The date printed on the back of this cover reveals this to be a late 70's reissue, and it's in great shape so I can hear every wispy cymbal flick and thud-thud. About midway through you need a break, which is why I can't imagine listening to this on CD. It's not the most demanding record ever made - I am listening to it quite casually - but it's such a complete vision that it feels like one complete symphony in 28 movements. Yeah yeah yeah, this'll get the "changed music forever" tag of course, but what's remarkable is listening in sequence cause I just did Strictly Personal and Mirror Man - even though those are 'transitional' works, blending between the edgy 4/4 stomp of Safe as Milk and more open, damaged compositions -- it's still a giant leap forward from that stuff to Trout Mask Replica. It helps that everything gel'd into a summit of personal expression and power - not just the utterly demented approach to rock songwriting, but the artwork and lyrics have stepped it up a few notches. 'Martian blues' is what they always call this stuff right? Sure, you can hear the remnants of that tradition especially in stuff like 'China Pig' but really, entire genres of music and thousands of musicians have still never progressed past this album. And no one has ever really equaled it as an accomplishment either. The raw sexuality of Beefheart's lyrics has always seemed like the perfect fit for music at least somewhat based in the blues - and it's pretty flagrant here, like 'My Human Gets Me Blues' and 'Big Joan'. The soprano sax that spits out all over this album makes sense too - I mean, that's the load he's shooting right? Also, 'Veterans Day Poppy', with it's awesome half-time bridge and Vietnam-era lyrics is a hell of a closer, and one of the most underrated Beefheart songs in general. Raw, primitive, insert whatever adjectives you usually read here -- it's all true, and it's maybe one of the pieces missing from earlier records. The story that's emerged from Drumbo and the others, about how this record was created through a brutal cult-like regiment, should make the bleeding hearts among us reevaluate Trout Mask's greatness, but I don't really care. Does anyone believe something this intense could be created through normal conditions? I like how certain songs reveal more traditional music characteristics, for example 'She's Too Much For My Mirror' has chord changes that remind me of Steely Dan or something. This is probably not the point, but rather a bad habit that I gravitate towards when trying to re-evaluate the very familiar.

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