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Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

June 9, 2007

It occurred to me at some point while listening to Trout Mask Replica, sometime after I realized that it was only music in an external sense and before I decided that I actually liked it to some extent, that I would never hear any music even remotely similar in my entire life. I realized that there couldn’t possibly be anything quite like this, through imitation or coincidence. The reason that I decided to listen to the whole thing all the way through was mostly because I was sick of not having it pinned down on my RYM. I gave up on it several times. I did more than throw it on the backburner. I downright discarded it, but I decided that I couldn’t let something this weird slip through my fingers any more, and I really wanted to understand it. What is truly interesting about Trout Mask Replica is that it demands some kind of attention, because there is nothing like it and opinions cannot be formed on it by comparison to anything else.

But maybe that is a strength as well as a weakness. Because Trout Mask Replica is the only music of it’s kind (or at least I assume, not having heard the rest of Beefheart’s discography), it is simultaneously the best and worst of it’s kind. To be sure, every aspect of the album is unique. The instrumentation is downright perplexing, and even at it’s most accessible it can only be described as sinister and a bit ugly. The gist of this all is that most of the instruments are played in extremely complex syncopation and confusing, sometimes nonexistent melodies. At first glance this seems nothing except obnoxious noise. Captain Beefheart’s cousin The Mascara Snake, who gets several lyrical mentions (my favorite of which is the opening bars to Pena), plays numerous squawky clarinet solos throughout the massive double record clocking in at almost eighty minutes. The lions share of the songs are played atonally, so almost nothing musical is readily apparent. But this rewards people with a keen ear and people who choose to stick with the album. After a while, otherwise hidden melodies or grooves surface, making the songs individually special. This is weird music, if you even want ot call it music, which I’ll bet many people won’t.

Every once and a while, there are some musical moments though. The main riff in Moonlight On Vermont comes to mind, as well as the immediately graspable dirty blues of China Pig and the somehow sensible Ella Guru. But really, these moments come in every song, even if they last only seconds or are overshadowed by an obnoxious guitar. But this juxtaposition of order and disorder only makes the album more compelling. When one thing makes sense, something else doesn’t, and for that reason, there is a big drawing power. Power to make the listener completely hypnotized and destroyed by whatever the songs have to offer. I was shocked to realize that I enjoyed whatever Ant Man Bee was saying, as well as being able to sing along with the opening Frownland. I shouldn’t enjoy this, but I do. Why I will never know.

There are some reoccuring elements throughout the album that set the record a bit more straight. Captain Beefheart’s voice is completely unique, never matches the tone of the music, and hardly makes any rhythmic sense. It has some kind of dirty southern growl to it, but his downright unbelievable range is what propels it in all different directions on the album. His Zappa-esque lyrics are half of the fun… They generally make no sense at all but end up being surprisingly inspiring. One particular instance is Dachau Blues, where he sings of the holocaust in his lowest of growls. It sounds like he can’t be taking the grim subject seriously, but he must be. Also included throughout the album are several songs featuring only Beefheart himself on vocals and nothing more, projecting his enigmatic, insane personality outwards through words. Also sometimes heard are small, real life dialogs from the Captain and company, affirming the fact that he really is from the same universe. From the introduction to Pena, Beefheart playfully plans out a small dialogue, and the laughter that ensure that even he realizes that what he does is quite strange.

Favorite songs are, surprisingly, not few. There is a gigantic amount of songs to choose from on the four expansive sides of the album. Everything on Side A is just perfect (although I really have no reasons for saying that), and other favorites include China Pig, When Big Joan Sets Up, and Hobo Chang Ba. But in reality, most of the enjoyment from this album is through value of humor, and every song is completely strange in their own funny ways. I’m glad I stuck with this. To some extent, I enjoy it. But once again, there is no standard. When compared to any other music, this is the most ridiculous trite imaginable. But when compared to itself, as most people have done and ended up loving the album (sheer numbers of Beefheart’s fans don’t lie), this is oddly enough nothing except perfect. It gets on my nerves after listening to more than a few songs in a row, but the humor is biting and sometimes wonderfully tongue in cheek, and it can’t really be denied that this is a classic of some genre that the human race just isn’t ready for quite yet.

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3 comments

  1. I love Beefheart! Though Trout Mask is truly the most bizarre, my favorite Beefheart is Safe As Milk. It’s ALMOST normal, but still completely weird in it’s own way.


  2. Yes, I have heard good things about Safe As Milk. I may have to give it a spin soon but I’m way behind on my music backlog


  3. A nice piece of writing. Trout Mask Replica is weird and challenging. but then again so is all the best music. It is without question Beefheart’s masterpiece although Lick My Decals Off Baby runs it a close second. These are my personal benchmarks for the current ‘weird’ music around now.



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