on 30 January 2009
Lick My Decals Off, Baby (lets shorten it to Lick) came one year after the groundbreaking Trout Mask Replica (TMR) and follows that album about as much as it leads the listener away from it. This is quite hard to explain but Lick does and does not sound like TMR. The songs are shorter overall, as is the album at only thirty nine minutes compared to TMR's seventy nine minutes, and the fifteen songs are in general more polished than what's on TMR. They have a greater sense of structure to them, though don't take that to mean they've all got versus and choruses. A lot of the draw of this album is that The Magic Band took what worked well on TMR and honed it to a finer degree, trimming away anything that wasn't absolutely essential. Personally I still prefer TMR to Lick but this is an extremely close second. There isn't a single bad track on the album and a lot of the songs are much better than the bulk of TMR. But it just doesn't have the same impact as TMR in terms of feeling like you just entered another universe, which obviously no other album could emulate, or should attempt to for that matter, and I guess that's why I still prefer that album to Lick.
It opens up with the title track, a song that is both instantly catchy (a lot of this album could be said to be catchy) and fantastically strange. `Lick My Decals Off, Baby' is a wholehearted cry to let go of the decals - or labels - of society and embrace an unrestrained way of living and the power of sexuality. The captain sings `I wanna lick you everywhere it's pink n everywhere you think' in a low glassy voice that's just freaking lush. His lyrics on Lick are as unrestrained and humerous as ever. Later on the album, during the song `I wanna find me a woman that'll hold my big toe till I have to go' (great title) he sings beautifully about a yearning to find a companion in life and be around nature till he dies. A fair few of the songs on Lick talk about love and sexuality, though the vast majority deal with themes of enviromentalism.
There are three instrumental songs here, with `Peon' being my favourite, though it took a couple of listens for it to click with me. `Peon' is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, a duet between guitar and bass that takes the listener on a journey (for me anyway) through old wild west towns and a lost American way of life, evoking the hard lot of Peons before and after the civil war. According to Beefheart it's a love song to his wife, Jan, but whatever. The last track on the album, `Flash Gordon's Ape' is probably the most intense piece of music captain Beefheart ever wrote in his life. Like big band free jazz numbers there are numerous instruments playing at once, including multiple saxophones, clarinets and horns, along with the usual guitars, bass and drums, as well as rocking marimba solo. The left speaker plays one song, all jazz, while the right speaker plays another, rock as Beefheart knew it. This resulting mix, not forgetting of course Beefheart singing straight down the middle, parting the sea as it were, makes for incredibly tough but rewarding listening. As far as I can tell the song is about modern life, evolution, and the human race growing more technologically powerful before we should. Beefheart sings `Take to your trees, there's no escape, the leaves are getting faker everyday, Flash Gordon's ape your too day'. It's wonderful and almost certain to clear the room of everyone but the most musically adventurous. Though at times i do wish the guitar and bass parts on the album were a little louder.
Lick isn't actually available to buy on CD, unless that is you are willing to pay over a hundred pounds for a new copy on Amazon marketplace, so you'll have to do what I and most other people have done, and that's download it free off the internet. Don't feel bad about it though, if it was available to purchase on CD we all would. This album is stunning, one of the greatest ever made, and should be heard by everyone. Go download it right now, it'll take no more than five minutes.