on 18 December 2010
Great album. Often you need to listen to the drums to get a feel for the songs to begin with....the rest will follow. It's a bit like free jazz in the sense that its the drums that serve as the anchor for the other instruments to play off. Not that I'm a huge jazz fan mind.
But if you're new to Captain Beefheart, for heavens sake don't start here!
I would recommend debut Safe As Milk, then Spotlight Kid/Clear Spot...then this. Enjoy.
Oh and RIP DVV.
OK, all you Van fans, this is the new version of the love it or loath it Troutmask Replica album being discussed.
The sound quality is of course why most folk will be reading this review and not the music, which remains the same as it always has been, angular, abrasive, surreal, adrenalised, powerful, hard hitting, unabated, abstract, without adherance to standard form whatsoever.
Bob Ludwig, he of many many years of experience, has been called in to polish this slab of Beefheartian outpouring into a form that reflects current remastering potential. When the master tapes were brought in they were found to be damaged so badly that they were deemed unusable and thus it was that Frank Zappa's own safety tape was brought out of proper storage for use. This tape was a first gen copy of the original and had never been used for anything else, so was therefore in really good shape and not worn out in any way. This tape was digitised and then Bob got down to remixing the whole show.
On first listening(which was problematic in itself as the cd player kept telling me that this disc was not finalised) I was all too aware of the added compression, which really peeved me. Why go to all of that bother to then hammer the life out of the dynamics with compression. Anyway, it is far from the worst offender with regards to compression. The remixing has made the skills of the Magic Band all the more apparent, guitars chiming, weaving through each other, distinctly and separately - which is a big change, the drums clear as I have ever heard them, John French's incredible polyrhythmical abilities now out in the open and Beefhearts voice sounding so much more real, the lyrics clear and distinct.
This cleaning up has had the effect of making this album sound like a different one that sounds approximately like the old one, but so much cleaner and explicit, sonically speaking. The old cd had implications, or suggestions, of certain things going on musically, whereas this has everything out in the open.
Plus points - the incredible clarity of the mixes, the greater sense of real folks playing live in the studio, the ability to really hear what each musician is doing, the ease with which Dons lyrics can be deciphered.
Minus point - the compression. It makes sitting with it on a decent stereo hard going. A pity, but there is always the car to hear it in ;-)
At the price it is being sold at here, and elsewhere, it is hardly likely that someone is going to choose this version to begin to listen to Don, so for the curious my advice is to buy the other version. This one is for the real hard core fans who want to get further insights into what those months of pyschological battering in the Troutmask House achieved.
Unique and a landmark in "rock" music history.
ps. Having recently gone over to the dark side of free jazz, hearing Peter Brotzmann and Evan Parker, makes me think that Don's claim to be as good a sax player as there ever was is not so far fetched at all(if he had mastered his breathing control) ;-)
I've lived with this astonishing one-off classic for forty-five years - bought it the same day as Four Sail by Love. I can, I suppose, understand some of the lower-rated reviews, since this can be hard to take, despite our being used to far stranger music now.
Or are we? A lot of what's come in the wake of TMR has been mainstream rock of one sort or another, or more off-the-wall bands such as Television or Radiohead, but very few who've sounded remotely as challenging or as 'dense' as this. You have to look to avant garde jazz or old blues for an adequate comparison with Don van Vliet and his pseudonymous merry pranksters.
And what a band he had. Saw them live twice, and both times they 'blew my mind' as some of us once said. Zoot Horn Rollo (real name Bill Harkleroad) was, apart from Richard Thompson & Hendrix, the mots incredible guitarist I've ever seen; Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) was, bar none, the greatest drummer in rock; and the wonderful Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) played the heaviest bass in the world. Beefheart reputedly 'taught' them these numbers. Don't you believe it. Whatever the truth, magic was made, not all of it of an enchanting nature, but much of it will purify you if it doesn't scare the pants off you first.
I seldom play TMR these days, preferring most of the Captain's other recordings, from Strictly Personal (thumpingly good spacy-blues) to the marvellous Clear Spot, to the likeable Ice Cream For Crow, with its desert blues feel and its valedictory poignancy.
Don is dead now - can it really be true? - and we'll have no more of his music or his paintings. So let's do him the honour of being honest about the relatively few he left behind.
I have loved TMR with a passion. But - and feel free to disagree - I can't help thinking you 'had to be there' and that this 28-track double LP worked best as exactly that: an LP with fold-out sleeve in good sound, listening to it on a day in the late sixties or seventies, preferably with a simpatico friend, quite loud, and a drink to hand.
Let's not forget, this music can be fun!
I can - and do, given half a chance - still recite The Dust Blows Forward 'n' The Dust Blows Black, and I still love tracks like the grainy China Pig, the frenetic Ant Man Bee, the hilarious Wild Life, and the simplistic but harshly sad Dachau Blues. Then there's the solo recitations, like Steal Softly Thru Snow, the already mentioned The Dust Blows Forward, and the magnificent, deftly titled poem simply called Well.
So no, I don't listen to this notorious, much-played and much-loved Zappa-produced epic all that often, but I can't help feeling that my life would not have been quite the same without it, and I couldn't for a moment imagine the world without Trout Mask Replica in it.
Life floats down the river
on a red raft of blood
Night blocks out the heaven
like a big black shiny bug
Its heart soft, shell shinin'
white in one spot
on 29 November 2013
Although Trout Mask Replica has been my favourite album for decades now, I've always held off from reviewing it - for two reasons. 1) I don't think it needs explaining. 2) Just because I like it, doesn't mean it's any good, or that other people ought to like it.
I first heard a couple of tracks of it on John Peel's Top Gear - and I liked it immediately. I don't even know why I liked it. Plenty of people told me why I shouldn't like it - there were no guitar solos - the rhythms were all over the place - the band members sounded like they were playing in different rooms - it was just noise - Beefheart was either crazy or the whole album was some kind of joke being played on people gullible enough to fall for it.
Why did I like it? For lots of reasons, that only grew as I listened to it. I enjoyed what other people only heard as cacophony. Sorry, I'm going to be pretentious right now for (hopefully) the only time in this review - for me, it was like the aural equivalent of looking at a Jackson Pollock action-art painting. There were tangled skeins of sound, gaping holes, light pouring through from every direction, always something exciting and hilarious and new to find in the complex knotting together of voices and instruments. I loved the scratchy guitar noises and the drums that sounded like rocks falling on a lead roof - it all kind of made sense to me. I liked the strangled saxes - I didn't know or care whether Beefheart could play `properly'. Of course, I didn't know at the time that it was actually the exact opposite of `action-art' - it was constructed with all the precision of a clockwork mechanism...a mechanism that had no other purpose than to...well...work like clockwork. In brief, the dire and dreadful racket amused and entertained me. But then perhaps I'm just an idiot with cloth ears.
I loved the lyrics - in so far as I could decipher them - they were funny and ridiculous and playful and wild - sometimes Beefheart was just juggling words - tossing them about like a kid to see how they landed - sometimes he was actually talking about something significant, albeit in an off-kilter super-realist way. Sometimes it was nonsense, sometimes it wasn't. What was clear was the fact that Beefheart liked baffling people - he lived up to the myth of his madness - maybe he even believed it himself sometimes. When he confounded people by racing out of a café shouting "porcelain turkey feet running across the sky!" he was acting out the role of mad poet clown visionary. The turkey feet were aeroplanes - think about it and you can see how a jet aeroplane might look like a turkey's foot high in the sky. It's not complicated - it's poetry, and Beefheart was just reveling in it.
And this is where I come to the whole point of this review. A while back, and for the very best of reasons, I'm sure, Matt Groening (Mr The Simpsons) made the remark that he had to listen to Trout Mask Replica eight times before he `got it'. Speaking as someone who `got it' straight away, it worries me that Matt (and others) have done the album the disservice of making it sound more of an intellectual exercise than it really is. An acquired taste. Something that you can only appreciate if you give it the attention it is due. This accretion of highbrow intellectualism totally misses the point for me.
Loving this album does not make you part of a smart elite - hating it does not make you 'less than'. If all you hear is noise - that's fine. Stop listening. You're not missing anything desperately important. If you're told you 'should' listen to it, start, maybe with tracks like Moonlight On Vermont, Orange Claw Hammer and Veteran's Day Poppy. Give them a bit of breathing space. More than one listen. Less than eight. Three, maybe? See what you think. Good? Then try more. Bad. Then move on - there's nothing to listen to here.
Trout Mask Replica makes me laugh - I can sing most of it in the shower - I totally adore it and I don't really care what anyone else thinks. That's why I've never bothered writing a review. Oh. Except I just did. But it's really no big deal, you know. As the Captain said, people should approach Trout Mask Replica "...without any attitude, or latitude, or longitude or altitude." It works for me. If it doesn't work for you, there is plenty more music out there.
Oh, by the way - the 2013 remaster sounds gorgeous and the booklet includes all the lyrics, so you can sing along in the shower...but only if you want to. It's not mandatory...and it's really not that difficult.
on 6 August 2007
I won't attempt to add to the reviews below - it's all been said - but what I can add is this: to all those who believe this album is a load of over-hyped nonsense only played by pretentious idiots who get some sort of smug, snobbish but ulimately false kick out of claiming the genius of something that they no more enjoy or understand than the next man...well, how many times have you played it? Two, three times? Maybe four? Well here's the rub: NO ONE LIKES IT AFTER 3 PLAYS. It takes most fans of this record about 8 plays to stop hating it!
Perserverance, perserverance and perserverance - the three P's. If you are prepared to play something about an hour long ten times before it starts to become remotely enjoyable then give it a bash. After a time the songs start creeping into your waking moments (and your dreams if you overdo it) and what sounded like a jumbled mess is now a song, but still a song like no other.
It is the most frustrating but equally most rewarding album ever made. When the penny does finally drop you will probably feel like a smartarse and quite proud of yourself for 'getting' something that has a reputation for being difficult, but more importantly you will be able to enjoy one of the most incredibly original albums ever made, within any genre of music. Trust me, it's worth the wait.
on 10 September 2013
Rather than review this album in isolation, I'll be comparing it to some of their other work since few seem to approach it from that angle and instead let this one overshadow their other stellar albums. Mostly due to mainstream critics (*ahem* Rolling Stone) who only let the left-field artists have their one moment in the sun.
'Trout' I believe is the one mainly favoured due to it's epic, sprawling nature, which people get drawn to over more understated stuff. 'Daydream nation' by Sonic Youth over 'Sister' is a good example of this. The other reason is that critics tend to focus on a band's "breakthrough" record (in terms of defining the sound they would get known for, this was a breakthrough despite 'safe as milk' having some outstanding moments and hinting at the direction they would take), even if they may have refined their techniques with subsequent records.
And with the follow up 'Decals', refine it they most certainly did. For one it did away with the somewhat unnecessary Zappa influenced humour on 'Trout', which while producing some memorable moments (Fast 'n' Bulbous!), did them no favours in being taken seriously, and has not helped in leading some to view it as some sort of novelty record. Which is a great shame considering the conceptual and musical wizardry on every track. Also on 'Decals' the tracks are overall more memorable and sophisticated, and every part reveals itself more easily. Mainly due to a better production quality and balance (The bass and drums aren't so buried in the mix and they'd stopped experimenting with the whole cardboard over the kit thing). The band had also clearly gained a greater level of comfort in playing such complex compositions.
Having said all that, somehow the music on this album is a bit more electrifying: There seems to be more energy in the performances ('Doctor Dark' aside). In contrast, their playing on Decals is more composed than energetic. Also while on Trout the vocals are raw and fresh, on Decals they're more mature and polished.
Another thing however about Trout is that it mostly contains the same monotone texture throughout, with a very limited band set up of Drums, Bass, twin guitars and occasional sax with no effects on any instruments. This can be viewed as a positive: adding to the 'grit' of the album, but I think the set-up works slightly better on 'Doc at the Radar Station' where the sound palate has been expanded and they've been allowed the freedom of guitar distortion in parts.
Having said all that, Trout Mask Replica is still a monumental classic which shattered Rock and started again from scratch. So it gets 5 stars. Particular highlights for me are:
'Frownland', which is a fantastic way to start the album- no easing in, just thrown straight in at the deep end with one of their most complex compositions. The lyrics are also joyous and life-affirming.
'The Dust Blows Forward 'n The Dust Blows Back', which is pure and soul nourishing. Making it an Acapella track works perfectly also and adds to the sense of stillness.
'Ella Guru', which is the most concise, condensed version of their sound on the album and compositionally perfect.
'Moonlight on Vermont', which is a raw and ballsy blues number with a fantastic harshness to the guitar.
'Sweet Sweet Bulbs', which is a warm and soulful love song. Musically it's also a great example of a Beefheart trademark: Have a piece flow seamlessly before disintegrating into a wild flurry of sound and then rebuild it again.
'Neon Meate Dream Of a Octafish', which is wonderfully surrealistic and disorientating. It also contains another trademark: Long snaking guitar lines which seem to go on endlessly, independent of the rest of the sound but still fitting in perfectly.
'China Pig', which gets right back to the roots.
'My Human gets me Blues', which for me is the best track on the album. It's one of the clearest pieces and his lyrics seem to flow off the tongue endlessly with tremendous ease (as they do in most of his recordings anyway).
'Hair Pie: Bake 2', which sees the tightest and most clearly defined playing on the album.
'Sugar 'n Spikes', which contains the album's most memorable moment: an astounding drum solo which continuously speeds up while the rest of the band stay the same, but it still in a counter-intuitive way makes perfect sense.
And finally: 'Veterans Day Poppy', which not only is an astonishing achievement musically, but a great way to end: by balancing all the atonal angularity with great sentiment and warmth.
on 27 February 2010
I am the manager of a wallaby farm in the Flow Country of Sutherland. At certain times of the year, when the dust blows forward and the dust blows back, the wallabies become restive but we keep them manageable by playing very loud music. We have experimented with many artists and genres but this is the only album in all of popular music history that subdues them completely. When the musicians play in different time signatures they break down into little groups, one group nodding its heads with the drums, another tapping its feet to the slide guitar, a third switching its tails with the Captain himself. They are motionless, mesmerised by the sheer metaphysical force of the unaccompanied Well. With this music they cannot go back to that Frownland. We thought maybe they liked just complexity and tried Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson and Magma but all those excellent bands seemed self-conscious and a bit serious by comparison and they soon got unmanageable again. Those late records, Doc at the Radar Station and so on, they're also excellent but they're not quite in the same place as Trout Mask Replica and the wallabies' behaviour shows they agree. So the wallabies and me, we think it's ridiculous that TMR averages out at a lower Amazon star rating than Ice Cream for Crow, for instance. Our theory is that TMR is so famous that people are attracted to it who are just never going to get it and they wind up slating what they can't understand. I explain this to them and they nod sadly.
We're sure the Captain would like the word "wallaby" and we imagine a Magic Band tribute group: the Bulbous Wallabies. Sadly the great black birds that wheel overhead are not the same that gather outside the Captain's porch and it'll never happen. No matter, we still have this unparalleled masterpiece.
on 26 November 2011
I saw a video of Miles Davis at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival the other day and was struck by its similarity with TMR in many ways. The talking heads on the Miles video were saying how daft it was to critique what he was doing in terms of jazz music. It really had little to do with jazz or any other genre. It was simply music that pushed the boundaries beyond what anyone else was doing then (or to some degree has done since). Also, of course, the music was great and breath-taking at times.
In the same way TMR should not be judged in terms of blues, hippie music, rock, jazz etc. It sounds like nothing else, then or since. Enjoy!
on 19 November 2007
I'm going to do something a bit different here. I've listened to this record three times so far, and I'm going to give you my first impressions, then I'm going to leave it for a bit - wait till I've heard it a few more times, and let you know what's what.
So why am I doing that? Mostly, because I understand from reading previous reviews that you have to listen to it at least 6 times before it starts to make sense. Also because other reviewers have suggested that you will either love or hate this record. At this stage, I neither love nor hate this record, though I was convinced that I was going to love it.
I've been listening to Beefheart for 5 or 6 months now. I started by watching "Captain Beefheart - Under Review", which was an excellent introduction, and convinced me immediately that I had found my new favourite band. So I bought "Safe As Milk", which has absolutely rocked my world. It has changed my entire musical outlook. It has pushed my Doors collection into obsolescence. I can't listen to a record without comparing it to "Safe As Milk". At least, it seems that way.
So then I got "Unconditionally Guaranteed", knowing full well that it's not considered to be one of the best. Sure, it's a little weak, but it's still quite good. After that, "The Mirror Man Sessions". I'm still not entirely sure what I think of that one. I love some of it, but I find it challenging to listen to. So now, I've moved on to "Trout Mask Replica". I've had this CD for a while, and I've been itching to listen to it. Towards the end of last week, I finally got a chance.
Given what I have already heard from the Captain, what I've read about Trout Mask Replica, what I know about it from the documentary, you'd think I'd have an idea of what to expect - wouldn't you? No. I actually couldn't imagine what it would sound like. And having listened to it, it doesn't sound like anything. In terms of instrumentation and production it's like the music on Mirror Man, but then again, it's nothing like it. You still have tippy-tappy drums mostly down the middle of the mix, with a flat, yet pounding bass alongside. Then the two guitars, again largely bereft of effects, and quite flat sounding, one in each speaker. But that's where the comparisons with Mirror Man end. As for comparisons with Safe As Milk - there are really none. The Captain doesn't seem to sing at all, which is a shame as his singing was outstanding on the first record. There are no fat grooves either. And those two elements are my favourite elements of Safe As Milk.
The songs are short, and there is very little there in terms of structure. The instrumentation just weaves and overlaps, shifts and er... honks. You can take that final word that doesn't fit with the rest of the sentence as an abstract comment on the music.
It's not like rock n' roll - hardly at all. There are no standard rock dynamics - it seems like it's all or nothing. Everyone plays, or no one plays for the most part. And it's so jarring. It's not like Sonic Youth, where you have so much going on, but it all fits into a kind of soundscape. It's really hard to just let it wash over you.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying I don't like ANY of this, that I don't get ANY of this. There are some parts I like a lot. I like "Ella Guru", with it's almost standard structure and coherent chorus, "Moonlight On Vermont", which is just brilliantly jagged. I love "Veteran's Day Poppy", which is the most emotional song on the record for me so far. "Pachuco Cadaver" is pretty good, "Sugar and Spikes" is good... it's just that this record hasn't come together for me yet. And I'm wondering whether it will.
Now, I'm about halfway through my fourth time through, and I've just read a review that suggests breaking the record into 4 song segments. So after this time, that's what I'm going to do. I'd thought of maybe splitting the record into 2, as it was a double album, or maybe 4 - one for each side of vinyl... but I'd decided to just try and take it all in. I'll see how I get on.
So it's another week later, and I've listened to all the songs on this record twice more - this time I split the record into groups of 4, 5 or 6 songs, and listened to each group twice. I have to say, it's not really fallen any farther into place. I like the same tunes as I did before - though I did notice the excellent drumming on "Pachuco Cadaver" this time - a really long figure that incorporates some lovely jazz-style rolls and er... flams. I also like the vocal on "Ant Man Bee" now.
Splitting the record into chunks did work in a way. It meant that each chunk had a couple of tunes, an a capella song and an instrumental usually, but I don't think there's any future in it for me. I'm going to split it into 2 now.
Well, I've told you what tunes I do like. Obviously there are some that I'm indifferent about, and unfortunately, there are some I really don't like, and that I can't really imagine that I am going to like. "Hair Pie Bake 1", "Neon Meate Dream of An Octafish", "China Pig", "When Big Joan Sets Up", "Hobo Chang Ba", "The Blimp", "Old Fart at Play".
That's quite a stumbling block. I wasn't really prepared to not like this record, but if that's the way it's going to be, I guess there's no shame in that.
Right, next time I add to this review, it will be with my final thoughts. Hang tight.
Ok, I think I'm ready now. I've kept on returning to this record, just giving it a chance to sink in, and I guess it is bit by bit, but I think it's going to be a very long time before I feel able to profess the kind of love for it that other reviewers have. It is to this record's credit that I have been able to keep returning to it.
I still pretty much like the same songs that I mentioned before, but now "When Big Joan Sets Up" has joined that list, but only because of the guitar part. I can't ever imagine liking the a capella tunes enough to warrant giving this record 5 stars.
I do like how jagged, and how messed up this record is. There are cuts that, in terms of production values, don't fit with the album, and the skits inbetween tracks suggest an early forerunner to the kind of japery hip-hop records often indulge in. It's certainly ahead of it's time, but I find that there's a large obstacle to enjoying this album - a larger obstacle than the chaotic music. And that's the production. None of the instruments are mixed clearly enough, especially the drums which are often nigh-on impossible to hear. Drumbo is playing rhythms that are difficult enough to make sense of as it is, without adding the difficulty of actually being able to hear them.
Now, I'm fairly confident that in time more and more of this record will appeal to me. What makes me think that? Well, since listening to it so many times I actually returned to "The Mirror Man Sessions", and enjoyed that record a lot more than I had previously. I just get the idea that each Beefheart record I listen to will gradually open up a new layer of understanding, will make sense of a record of track that didn't make sense at all, and finally I will be able to appreciate each recording as a part of a great and ambitious whole.
Music doesn't really come any more challenging than this, and I like a challenge.
...for me anyway! I already had 'The Spotlight Kid/Clear Spot' but was advised nay warned not to dip even so much as a toe into this too quickly, but curiosity got the better of me and I ordered a 'like new' second hand copy. Around 30 seconds in I thought someone was taking the p, then I started chuckling, then wanted to congratulate the previous owner for showing commendable restraint, then wanted a refund, then along came 'Moonlight on Vermont'.....
I can fully understand the sentiments behind the 1 star reviews. At first, it can hit you as an uncoordinated cacophonous racket with little discernible structure or shape in a conventional sense. There is recognisable rhythm and melody here, but more often than not these are buried within dense layers of jarring, irregular rhythms and oblique, discordant guitars. Unless you happen to be one of the special ones who can 'get' this first time, I would suggest relinquishing any preconceptions of how music should be structured and start with a completely open mind, a clean slate, then try to find a foothold somewhere/anywhere. To be honest, after my first listen I only liked 'Moonlight on Vermont' then like a cake I quartered the album into smaller, more digestible slices, and most of the rest have now followed suit. Will I grow to enjoy the entire album unequivocally?.... I like to think so. I'm struggling with 'Pena' at the moment, but hey, only yesterday the instrumental 'Dali's Car' sounded like the musical equivalent of 'flatline' but today I detected a strengthening sinus rhythm! And besides, seeing as I've only been listening heavily to this for little more than a week, I reckon I'm not doing too bad! Thanks for taking time to read my review.