As in Captain Beefheart’s best music over the past 14 years, at the cholesterol-filled heart of his new album there is one big, intriguing contradiction. The songs are crawling with grotesque lyrical imagery and bluesy, growling vocals over totally non-conventional music that all suggests a complete breakdown in our perception of things. Yet the weird part is, this is seldom music of despair or destruction. While some other, truly unconventional modern musicians call for elimination or speak of disillusion (Public Image or Lydia Lunch and 8 Eyed Spy), Beefheart’s music is more an act of joyous experimentation. This strange brew of anger and joy can be best seen in a song like “Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee.” It’s filled with Beefheart’s usual chaotic rifts, which scratch and claw their way into your heart, yet it ends with an inspiring delivery of the lyric: “death be damned.…. life.”
Accordingly, the album is stocked with buoyant, challenging rhythms and musical non-sequiturs, beginning with, say, a perfectly reasonable guitar rift that, is suddenly pulled apart by five other sounds zooming in at different angles. Beefheart fans will be used to these palsied rhythms but the pieces hardly come off as repetitions of the past. “Hot Head” has one of his most danceable beats ever, and in “Telephone,” Beefheart almost sounds like a singing version of Yosemite Sam. Also, on the album’s spoken parts he proves once again how successful he is at the skill of “reading” over music (something even Patti Smith has never done so naturally).