CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: “Bluejeans & Moonbeams” Party Of Special Things To Do; Same Old Blues; Observatory Crest; Pompadour Swamp; Captain’s Holiday; Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Evil Doll; Further Than We’ve Gone; Twist Ah Luck; Bluejeans And Moonbeams. (Virgin V2023). Producer Andy Di Mantino. Musicians; No details available.
IN MANY ways Beefheart has become the victim of his own achievements. I’m thinking most specifically of “Trout Mask Replica,” of course, and the almost visionary status with which Beefheart was endowed by critics who saw that album (with no little justification) as being crucial to the development and extension of rock.
It was certainly an important album, though its importance has yet to be analysed in any relative detail, and it’s true that it remains unparalleled by anything that Beefheart has subsequently produced, in the sense that it was a unique and spontaneous expression.
It’s inevitable then, that almost all critical opinion and assessment of the Captain’s recent work has revolved around that album. Such an attitude is as frustrating as it is inevitable because it is bound to undermine, to some degree, whatever might be of value within that work.
“Unconditionally Guaranteed” for example, was virtually universally criticised because it represented a move away from the apparent complexity of the albums that preceded it. That was true but didn’t necessarily make it a bad album. In the context of its own existence, it was a good album, Beefheart might have lost something in the transition, but he was also gaining something, which was easily overlooked by comparing it to former glories.
Having established that, it must now be admitted that even in isolation this present album has some difficulty in justifying its existence. It’s difficult to imagine one growing into “Moonbeams” in the same manner as one grew into the last album. Almost without exception it’s no more than an echo of Beefheart’s former capabilities. The first line of the first song, “Party Of Special Things To Do” with Beefheart growling, “The camel wore a nightie,” promises a lot more than the rest of the song, or the rest actually delivers. The band are merely functional, rarely sparking each other into flights of imagination.
Lyrically, the album is simple without being effective or inventive within its own limitations. “Observatory Crest” is fairly pleasant, but isn’t really much of a song by anyone’s standards. “Captain’s Holiday,” which closes the first side and is, with J. J. Cale’s “Same Old Blues” (nothing special about that) one of the two non-Beefheart compositions on the album, is of very little consequence. “Evil Doll” and “Twist Ah Luck” are a little better but neither, one feels, are particularly memorable additions to Beefheart’s repertoire.
The one song that does succeed in demanding and holding your attention is the title track. “Bluejeans and Moonbeams” is both lyrically and musically direct and uncomplicated, with Beefheart’s vocals reflecting the essential simplicity perfectly. Spiralling guitars trace and swoop in delicate patterns over a synthesiser and accustic guitar, with a suggestion of strings (a Mellotron, perhaps) drifting in the background.
It’s almost worth the price of the album, it’s certainly irresistable and I love it. If nothing else, it’ll lead you back into the album, and who knows one’s initial impression might fade, and be replaced by something more positive. Certainly Beefheart has proven himself too vital an artist to be dismissed on initial reactions. He needs a little more time, perhaps.