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8 November 2009

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - 'Lick My Decals Off, Baby' (Straight)

It's been a bit of a holiday for the Underbite corp., for which I can only offer my heartfelt apologies. Life, reality, circumstance, etc. often combine to prevent the listening required to properly assess these records and without being physically near the accumulation (or a turntable), this service had to just lie dormant. But Lick My Decals Off, Baby is a hell of a way to return. A lot of people hold this up as the pinnacle of Van Vliet's musical work and I wouldn't argue against it; certainly it's an essential piece of the puzzle, at least along with Trout Mask. It's single-album length and general diversity (and marimba!) make it a somewhat more palatable record to throw on when craving a blast o' Beefheart. I think there's a greater merging of the dismantled visionary (heard on Trout Mask) with the raw rock of the earlier stuff; somehow the overall product isn't compromised. 'Doctor Dark' is a great indication of this sound - it drives forward like the most raw, guttural riff-based rock but also mangles the fence. Even though this is one of the most listened to Beefheart records, there are some songs I always tend to forget about, like the brilliant 'The Clouds Are Full Of Wine (Not Whiskey or Rye)' or 'Petrified Forest'. The lyrics sheet prints some additional poems mixed in, which deny the normality of the font with the freelancing apostrophes and choppy fragments. It's a pleasure to read these, something I can't do for Trout Mask because (my copy, at least) doesn't boast a lyric sheet. Listening to 'Bellerin' Plain' is like proto-Pollard - the casual falling off in pitch at the end of each line as he sings "Foothills, locomotives walked n' sugar beets rolled down the tracks/Sunbum bounce soot off the black smokestacks" is practically 'Dusted' to me. And how about the sense of assonance in 'Doctor Dark's "Tear apart 'n black 'n white 'n like / The moon on a pail of milk spilled down black in the night / little girl lost a tear 'n her kite/ T' the night 'n like 'n light" -- I know it's boring to quote lyrics here but that's some fucking Bruce Andrews shit there. 'Woe-Is-A-Me-Bop', 'Space-Age Couple' and 'I Love You, Big Dummy' are the rawest songs, I think, perhaps of Beefheart's entire catalogue. It's not that they are simplistic or particularly carnal; rather I think they just communicate most directly. There's some brilliant shifts in 'Woe-Is-A-Me-Bop' - listen to the way the intro bars set a tone and then as soon as Don's voice comes in, it totally contorts itself in a different direction. There's a lot of cadence shifts in this song as it goes along; perhaps the limited set of lyrics on this one makes it easier to concentrate on the tonal lurches. But somehow, by the time of 'Flash Gordon's Ape', the lurching feels more like a snowmobile running through the desert, hitting irregularly spaced rocks. It's enough to see your own shadow and know when to confront it.

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