Trout Mask Replica

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

album cover

Now Leaving Frownland

The wise and sometimes visionary Captain Beefheart (Donald Van Vliet) opens this extended adventure in surrealism with a wonderfully candid confession: "My smile is stuck, I can't go back to your Frownland." Consider these words a territorial marker, indicating the point where conventional notions of rock music end and enchanted Day-Glo electric preposterousness, piled high and served with extra sauce, begins. Atop a foundation of relatively normal blues guitar riffs, the Magic Band parades all sorts of non sequiturs in sound—screeching jazz-gone-awry dissonance followed by Delta blues howls followed by thunketythunk cartoon rhythms followed by radio-drama gibberish ("a squid eating doe in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous!"), all delivered by characters who sound like they long ago stopped questioning life down this Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.

Released in 1969—a year of many revolutions, musical and otherwise—Trout Mask Replica is Beefheart's finest hour. It's a circus-sideshow exhibition, made possible in part by producer and champion Frank Zappa, who, in a classic inmates-running-the-asylum move, gave Beefheart full creative control. Its settings of slightly unhinged poetry against rampaging guitarist-as-spearchucker backdrops can challenge even the most open-minded listener—if at first the irregular rhythms of tunes like "Dachau Blues" and "My Human Gets Me Blues" seem intentionally off-putting, give them a second chance. As your ears become accustomed to Magic Band logic, you'll discover astounding instrumental juxtapositions and delightful melodic ripples beneath the often impenetrable surface.

Trout Mask didn't make Beefheart a star, but it did establish him as one of rock's great eccentrics. In this role, he's influenced generations of artists; Tom Waits and Beck, to name two, snatched Beefheart's strategies for nonlinear storytelling, while countless punk and postpunk acts borrowed the abrasive, needling attack of the Magic Band. Those worshippers might have started out over in Frownland. But they ended up smiling, in spite of themselves, at Beefheart's delectable absurdities.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1969, Bizarre/Straight (Reissued 1995, Reprise)
Key Tracks: "Frownland," "Hair Pie, Bake 2," "Dachan Blues," "Moonlight on Vermont," "My Human Gets Me Blues"
Catalog Choice: Safe as Milk; Doc at the Radar Station
Next Stop: Frank Zappa: Joe's Garage
After That: Eugene Chadbourne: End to Slavery
Book Page: 143

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#1 from Eric Simandl - 11/08/2008 7:52

Fast and bulbous!

#2 from Matt Janovic - 02/14/2009 11:42

I believe the Reprise/Warner cd was reissued in 1992, but it’s earlier than 1995.

#3 from Mike Nieradka, West Babylon, NY - 10/27/2010 5:52

I bought this album after reading about it and seeing it a Rolling Stone top 100 list in the late ‘80’s. It’s a challenging listen and makes it fasinating. It will take a lifetime of listening to figure it out…..

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