Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band "Trout Mask Replica"

By Tony Convey

Revolution, December 1970

Straight STS 1053

The dust blows forward and the dust blows back. The Blimp! The Blimp – the mother ship. With these little curved ditties the crazed captain makes his return. Four sides of nightmares and daydreams, wildlife and forest nights. It oozes out of the speakers like a huge, crumbling garbage dump intent on swallowing you up. This is the music of rusted baked beans cans scarring the side of the road. Paranoia becomes irrelevant and the only escape is provided by the fish mask or the oven. "Trout Mask Replica" could be likened to the aural equivalent of a Zap comic. His voice sounding like a spaced out Chester Burnett, Beefheart rants and raves through a manic collage of schizoid sagas, instrumental insanities and some remarkably touching poetry. Don Van Vliet and his cosmic cohorts Jimmy Antennae Semens, the Mascara Snake, Rockette Morton and Zoot Horn Rollo have somehow managed to find beauty buried beneath the offal and occasionally they allow it to rise to the surface. This is not a pleasant album to listen to.
The pain and fear become oppressive and it takes quite a degree of concentration to get through all four sides in one sitting. It is at the same time one of the least accessible yet most rewarding pieces of music making ever put on vinyl.

His previous albums "Safe As Milk" (Kama Sutra) and "Strictly Personal" (Blue Thumb) were relatively mild affairs compared to this. Apparently in the past he was shackled by "fast buck" chasing producers and engineers but on this little trip through the woods he was given a free hand by the producer (who else but Frank Zappa). Most of the songs defy description or categorisation, being the unique products of their composers other world imagination. The most compelling track is "Dachau Blues" an anguished cry against the insanity of war. The fearful atonal backing is an ironic comment on the horror and obscenity of the concentration camp. For anyone interested in the bizarre or unusual, this album is essential.