Review Summary: Fast and bulbous
If there ever was an artist who could be described as a cult figure, it would be Captain Beefheart (real name Don Van Vliet). A figure head of outsider music, the Captain would produce some of the most experimental and challenging records of the 20th century. Renowned nowadays as a genius, a man who set out to destroy boundaries and recreate with warped blues riffs and horn riffs, his music was and still is very love it or hate it. A musical abortion in every sense of the word, Trout Mask Replica is an 80 minute ride to the depths of hell and back. And what a ride it is. Recorded over the course of two sessions (one being a marathon six hour date to lay down the backing tracks, the other to record Beefheart’s vocals and horns), the finished record, on first listen, sounds more like a poorly executed joke. Guitars are out of tune and time, drum tracks scatter all the tape and Beefheart’s vocals are ridiculously raspy and harsh, sometimes devolving into wild feral yells and cries. Instruments collide into each at an alarming rate with seemingly no regard for cohesion or listening enjoyment. There’s little respite over the double record’s runtime, with nearly every track being a brutal sonic assault. It seems more to be one big bizarre joke that no one except the captain himself would find funny. Then it clicks. The broken, crushed jigsaw pieces that make up this record suddenly start to fit together. It stops being funny, and it starts being magical.
Trout Mask Replica is blues in its rawest form. Rawer than anything than Cream or Hendrix were playing, Hell sometimes rawer than the works of Robert Johnson. It’s blues in that it’s human. Beefheart’s surrealist stream of conscious lyrics portray the mind of a man completely unconcerned or what the outside world would think. In a sense, he’s a true artist, one who makes purely for the art and not for the commercial or critical gain. The playing, while disjointed and chaotic at first echoes the free jazz work of Ornette Coleman and John Coleman, albeit undated with furious electric guitar playing (helped with the often dissonance heavy sax playing). What sounds like complete improvisation suddenly becomes intricately structured chaos. This was intentionally, the madness, the bum notes, the surreal time signatures. It was all on purpose. And it’s amazing
There are times things tone down a bit, like on the unaccompanied poetry tracks (‘The Dust Blows Forward N’ the Dust Blows Back’, ‘Well’, ‘Orange Claw Hammer’) and at times even oddly touching (‘Frownland’ and the completely deranged love song ‘When Big Joan Sets Up’) but the chaos still emanates though nearly every track. There are times where scrapes of melody break through like on the closer ‘Veteran’s Day Poppy’ and ‘The Blimp (moustrapreplica’) which was actually recorded by Frank Zappa (who also produced the madness) and the Mothers Of Invention, but these are few and far between.
Trout Mask Replica is nearly impossible to get at first. I admit the first few times I listened to this record, I laughed a lot before caving in before side 2 got underway. But I stuck by it, and it finally snapped with me. It’s a trainwreck of an album, but a beautiful executed one. Harsh, unrelenting and overwhelming creative, Trout Mask Replica is a milestone in avant garde music and one of the finest records ever crafted. Is it any reason they call him the Captain"
Stand out tracks:
Moonlight on Vermont
When Big Joan Sets Up
Sugar ‘N Spikes
Hobo Chang Ba
The Blimp (moustrapreplica)
Veteran’s Day Poppy