Thursday, July 12, 2007

No 58: Trout Mask Replica

Band: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Album: Trout Mask Replica
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Probably the most important experimental record in American music history, "Trout Mask Replica" is lauded by everyone from Matt Groening to Lester Bangs. It's strange, that's for sure, but it also broke ground as to what an experimental record should be. Save for Zappa, "Trout Mask Replica" is the most alternative of alternative records.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Um, listen to it. It's not an easy record.
Best song: "Moonlight on Vermont," maybe? They're all pretty great. "The Dust Blows Forward 'N the Dust Blows Back" is amazing. "China Pig" is fantastic. It's basically amazing.
Worst song: I love it all.
Is it awesome?: Yes, but not for the faint of heart.

"A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast 'n bulbous! Got me?"

Those are some of the lyrics on "Trout Mask Replica." I do not know what they mean. I don't really care.


The cover of the record has a man, dressed in a green jacket and yellow fake fur vest/scarf thing, holding a fish up to his face. He is wearing an especially tall top hat with a shuttlecock on the top of it. He is shot against a red/purple background.


You may notice that I'm only writing short, disjointed notes about the record, because I can't coherently write about an album so very incoherent, yet so very beautiful and perfect. It's among my favorites, largely because it's everything. Beefheart tried (mostly successfully) to fuse free jazz, Delta blues, skiffle, rock and roll, folk and vaudeville into one record. All at once. With a band he holed up in a house for eight months while learning the record (so they could "live" the album). While spreading rumors that no one took drugs (they did) or knew their instruments before Beefheart taught them (they did).

Or maybe I'm just in love with the lyrical topics that range from concentration camps to rats (in one song) to music history, sexuality to strange metaphors about pie.

The first twenty seconds or so of the album sound "normal." It's a nice little song about happiness. Then, it devolves into dissonant guitar notes and drum patterns.

Every guitar solo from Jeff Tweedy, every Oval record and every Glenn Branca recording owe a lot to "Trout Mask Replica." And it's all there on "Frownland."

One of the members of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band was called "The Mascara Snake." He was Beefheart's cousin and he played bass clarinet on the album.


Lester Bangs' original 1969 review is a must-read.


Because of this project, I've learned to appreciate the succinctness of Robert Christgau's record reviews. Here is his review of "Trout Mask Replica" in its entirety:

I find it impossible to give this record an A because it is just too weird. But I'd like to. Very great played at high volume when you're feeling shitty, because you'll never feel as shitty as this record. B+

While I'd give it an "A," he's not far off.

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