Whilst reading Simon Reynolds’ sterling work Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (a million thank yous go to my good friend Joe for buying me it), I came across continuous references to Captain Beefheart, and I was intrigued. When I was 12 or 13, a prodigiously intelligent friend of mine expounded the greatness of the Captain to me, but after listening to his seminal album, Trout Mask Replica, I was left completely baffled. Was it all a joke, or was it just some amateur musicians making noise?
At 20, I’ve finally realised it was neither. The continuous references in that book, and the afore-mentioned Joe putting the amazing “ABBA Zaba” on a mix CD for me led me to order Trout Mask Replica, and I’ve been investigating it since it came in the post. I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst this isn’t music as the general public knows it, it is probably the greatest musical experiment ever created. So many sounds, ideas and oddities swirl around in almost every one of the 28 tracks on this record that it couldn’t ever be a coherent listen – this is the sonic equivalent of the border between madness and genius. Some songs sound like four tracks at once, others sound like squalls of atmosphere, with Don Van Vliet’s wild vocals directing them. Whilst the album could never be used to relax, and doesn’t appear immediately musical per se, I found myself tapping my foot along as it whirled around in the background. It’s simply an experience that anyone seriously interested in music should expose themselves to. I’ve just got my hands on the debut album Safe As Milk and I’m looking forward to a similar feeling very soon.