Beefheart: a prime cut – Lick My Decals Off Baby review by RW

This review was taken from the 2nd January 1971 edition of Melody Maker.

Already, I’m thinking that this is the Captain’s most satisfying album to date.

“Safe As Milk” was a very good, every-so-slightly spacey rock album; “Strictly Personal” was ruined by phasing; and “Trout Mask Replica” tended to be a little unwieldy, despite several flashes of brilliance. But from the first note, “Decals” discovers and maintains a balance which rarely wavers, right up to the final reed squeak of “Flash Gordon’s Ape”.

It’s difficult to decide whether the unnamed musicians are geniuses or complete beginners, but from the evidence of several tortuous unison passages I’m inclined to believe that they’re the former. Much of the playing consists of that odd, jerky, out-of-sync style, with the lines weaving and clashing so right that it can’t be accidental, and it’s too complex to be purely intuitive.

There are some nice riffs, like “I Love You, You Big Dummy,” which has some demented harmonica and an hilarious Beefheart vocal, and the subdued, slightly menacing “The Buggy Boogie Woogie”. Two tracks, “Japan In A Dishpan” and “Flash Gordon’s Ape,” have Ayleresque saxophones, but maybe “Peon” is the most extraordinary cut: it’s an instrumental featuring acoustic guitar and bass, who play together so perfectly that I can’t believe the piece wasn’t written out. If it wasn’t, there’s an umbilical between the musicians brains.

I can’t think of anything wrong with this album: it’s got fine rock and roll, insane blowing and singing, and some of the most amazing lyrics (or perhaps I should say word-progressions) in the world. The lyrics in fact sound as if the Captain writes one word at a time, following each one up with the most suitable word regardless of meaning, placing more importance on sound.

Whatever, it works, like pretty much everything he does.

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