A nice feature about Captain Beefheart has just gone online in one of The Guardian’s podcasts. Beefheart fan Jon Dennis chats to John Harris (author of the Guardian’s recent Mission: Unlistenable) about how best to get into Beefheart and why people should bother.
Their conclusion? Leave Trout Mask Replica to the hardcore weirdos, Clear Spot is one of the greatest albums ever recorded and everyone should be listening to it. It’s hard to disagree.
I have often felt that our tendency to bang on about Trout Mask Replica as a pinnacle of artistic achievement in music (which I think it is) has probably done Beefheart a great disservice. Anyone curious about the music is going to be faced with an off-putting 70+ minute onslaught of oddness which usually takes a bit of effort to come to appreciate. There are no reference points for TMR since nothing else sounds like it.
Let’s start talking up some of his other albums as well and shift the focus; they are likely to serve as a much more engaging introduction to this great music and will ensure people don’t buy one album which they don’t like and then write it all off. An appreciation of TMR is more likely to follow on and if not, well Clear Spot is a sensational album in its own right so who cares? Now there’s a strategy!
Incidentally, the Mission: Unlistenable article contains one of the best descriptions of TMR ever, from Andy Partridge:
“You’re running around stairs and gangways and gantries – things are swinging across, and you’ve got to grab them to get to the next level. It’s like being trapped in a mad, giant watch. Do you know what I mean?”
Absolutely. Download the podcast, the Beefheart feature starts after about 17 minutes with a burst of Ice Cream For Crow.