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Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Sheer Electricity,
This review is from: Safe As Milk (Audio CD)
Is this Captain Beefheart's best album? Not quite. But neither for that matter is the boundary breaking "Trout Mask Replica". The honours in this reviewers humble opinion go to the magnificent metal delta blues of 1972's "Clear Spot", but were you to buy all three records you would be investing in an artist who John Peel once declared "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of pop music, it's Beefheart." The wonderful "Safe as Milk" is Van Vliets debut album recorded in the Spring of 1967 at Sunset Sound Studios, later for the finished work at RCA Studios in Hollywood.
The Magic Band members were:
Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, (Vocals, Harmonica & Bass Marimba).
Alex Snouffer, (Guitar).
Jerry Handley (Bass Guitar).
John French, aka John 'Drumbo' French (Drums & Percussion).
Ry Cooder (Guitar, Slide Guitar & Bass Guitar)
Taj Mahal (Percussion), Russ Titelman (Guitar),
Milt Holland (Log Drums & Percussion),
Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman (Theremin).
Here is a Mono version of this great album which is the way it was originally recorded by producer Richard Perry. Huge thanks go to the specialist Sundazed label for restoring Perry's original mix which was later altered by the label without Beefheart's involvement. It sounds great but frankly the other version was highly listenable despite a discernible layer of hiss. What strikes you today about this album is how it runs as a manifesto for a long list of the more influential bands of this era like the White Stripes, Grinderman, the Kills, Black keys and a host of others. More than this when released at the height of the summer of love in 1967 this album went so far against the grain it was positively perverse. Time has nonetheless seen its reputation grow as other more fashionable products of that era are consigned as museum pieces. In this context the judgment of David Fricke's liner notes to the album is emphatic, that this album "Created in a year rich in historic debuts and transformative statements about rock's dynamic and expressive possibilities, Safe As Milk was so far in it was out." Look at the band decked out in expensive suits on the inside cover with driving gloves and trilby hats for satoral proof.The music speaks for itself and is as fresh as sweet Sunday morning (albeit with a bit of a hangover). Beefheart's voice should have been studied by David Attenborough its that primal and the brilliant musicians behind him whip up a storm. Unfortunately for the young 20 year old guitar prodigy Ry Cooder who arranged most of the album, the madness of Beefheart was all too much and he was gone as soon as it was in the vaults. Cooder tells the story how previous band guitarist Doug Moon became so enraged by Van Vliet's unrelenting criticism that he once pointed a loaded crossbow at him, only to have Van Vliet tell him, "Get that f@@@ing thing out of here, get out of here and get back in your room".
When it comes to the songs Beefheart's base metal was Chicago blues with a twist and even here with the brilliant "Electricity" (a song surely as important as "Tomorrow never knows"?) he starts to chart a route to the avant garde. Other more straightforward songs include the classic blues shuffle opener "Sure Nuff N' Yes I Do", the emerging pop psychedelics of "Zig Zag Wanderer", the gorgeous doo-wop of "Im Glad" and the belting blues of "Grown so ugly" which Jack White ought to pay royalties towards. Beefheart's love of the lyrical absurd which he later developed with Frank Zappa and in excelis on "Trout Mask Replica" is on display with the joyous "ABBA Zaba". With lines like "Run run morning soon Indian dream tiger moon /Yellow bird fly high go battle sky to shatter the moon/Babbette baboon gonna catch her soon Babbette bab", there is surreal humour here in spades. Ultimately it is the dirty blues of "Plastic Factory" that Beefheart makes most sense as the twisted son of Howlin Wolf and voice that is sometimes astonishing especially on "Where there's woman". In this sense it a shame that Beefheart has become unfairly associated with a certain kind of rock snobbery. See the famous clip in the film "Hi Fidelity" when record store assistant Jack Black refuses to sell this album to a "underserving customer". Overall as the liner notes to an earlier edition of "Safe as Milk" state "only a handful of rock performers can genuinely claim to have radically changed the parameters of the genre and one of them is Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart".