Album review: Magnetic Hands by Bleddyn Butcher

[alert_box type=”info”]From The Wire September 2002[/alert_box]

One day, every moment of existence will be available for endless re-examination on Deja-VD. The Past will enjoy a renewed period of exponential growth. The present will simply disappear, consumed by living memory boiled in esprit d’escaliers. In the future, when nothing will happen once and for all, quality control will become impossible.

In the meantime, we can amuse ourselves with barrel-scraping exhumations of every event ever exposed to magnetic tape. This latest addition to the ever expanding Beefheart archive collects ‘field recordings’ made between 1972 and 1980, from seven English performances by different formulations of The Magic Band.

The sound quality is variable in the extreme, often veering between muffled and boomy several times within the space of a song. Consequently, there’s no reason to prefer these performances to their studio counterparts. Unless, that is, you treasure such moments as the Captain answering a barking dog at the Bickershaw Festival in May 1972 as if it were a heckler: “You got in free?”

The interplay between the musicians is not so sharply caught. The awkward logic of Magic Band arrangements, their interlocking angularity and sonorous strangeness, is reduced to a riffy thud. There is no semblance of funk, Beefheart growls and hollers without discernible purpose, and blows hard at his harp. He sings songs nobody knows. The stop/start structure of “Beatle Bones N’ Smokin’ Stones” confuses the audience but there’s no edifying tension. Nor is there audible embarrassment. In the heat of the moment, this incoherence might have been splendid. As an artefact, it’s woebegone. Pass.

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