More undiluted examples of Captain Beefheart’s singular genius can be heard on his “Trout Mask Replica” and “Lick My Decals Off” albums, but this pair of 1972 albums-packaged together here-are his most innately pleasurable.
Had Howlin’ Wolf been raised beside the canals of Mars, he might have sounded like Beefheart (a.k.a. Don Van Vliet), who mutated the blues with Dadaist lyrics, jagged guitar lines and spasmodic rhythms that showed his disdain for what he called the “mama heartbeat” of rock music. Striking many as chaotic hippie noise, his music, for the diligent listener, mirrored nature in its complex patterns and disquieting beauty. With “The Spotlight Kid” and particularly “Clear Spot” (helmed by future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman), Beefheart seemed to be attempting to meet listeners halfway. But while you can dance to some of the songs here-given an extra limb or two-it is still demanding, powerful stuff.
Along with his abstract lyrics, Beefheart offers more palatable tracts ranging from runaway trains to feminism, on which he opined, “Nowadays a woman has to haul off and hit a man to make him know she’s there.” Both his voice and harp blow at house-leveling force, and his Magic Band was aptly named.
Art Tripp (a Zappa alumnus who also had done symphonic work) is one of the scariest drummers of all time, taking impossibly disjointed, angular rhythms and making them swing as solidly as if they were straightforward beats played by the MGs’ Al Jackson Jr. Under Beefheart’s influence, guitarists Zoot Horn Rollo and Rockette Morton created a whole new vocabulary for the instrument, taking off from Delta slide guitar with slashing, lurching lines that interlock like roots on a forest floor.
Nothing here rocks as you might expect it to, but it all rocks like mad.