1969 – Straight Records
Blues-Rock/ Jazz/ Avant-garde/ Experimental
Listening to Beefheart’s masterpiece Trout Mask Replica is an experience that must be had. Its nonsensical noise, delta blues rants, and surrealistic imagery are something that have not, in my opinion, ever been close to replication.
At first this third attempt by the band at a studio album might seem almost entirely inaccessible. It sounds weird and, to be honest, awful when you first put it on, but after the second or third time its music is readily apparent and even rather catchy. There is a magic and charm to be had by eventually finding the threads of rhythm and musical complexity that comprise the record, and there is definitely a great sense of achievement that comes with finally conquering the strangeness.
I find that Trout Mask is a very difficult record to write about. If you’ve never heard it then it’s almost impossible to explain how it works, but I’ll give it a try.
The music itself is a strange and inconsistent mix of traditional blues, free-jazz composition, and rock and roll. It’s jarring and scratchy jumping from place to place without no obvious structure, but the structure is there buried beneath layers upon layers of obfuscation. Ella Guru and China Pig are perhaps two of the more easily accessible tracks; the first being a good introduction to how the disjointed musical lines work together to form a union and the latter being much more traditional in its approach to the delta blues.
This freakish inconsistency might sound like a bad thing, but it is actually what this record is all about and what makes it so successful. It is at once a trial and a treat to listen to, both an academic deconstruction of what music actually is and an affirmation of the rich history of American musical forms.
Beefheart’s lyrics too are a wonderfully immersive challenge to decipher, and even when you think you’ve worked it out you find another double entendre of pronunciation (“In Jest/ Ingest”). There’s just so much in this album that needs to be taken apart, looked at in isolation, put back together, and listened to all over again. Maybe this is not the purview of a relatively short music review, but rather the beginnings of a doctoral dissertation.
Trout Mask Replica is must for anyone who has any kind of academic interest in popular music and for anyone who just wants to expand how they think about music. It throws out tradition while building on the contradiction of utilizing those same traditions. It complex and intricate musical structures from the very mess of rubble created by destroying those structures. It is an album of contradictions and an amazing piece of art both high and low.
I really can’t recommend this record highly enough and there’s little more I can say on it here. I think the whole thing might best be summed up with the introductory lines from Pachuco Cadaver:
“A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast ‘n’ bulbous, got me?”
I must add that if you get this album and listen to it don’t be discouraged or put off by its oddness. Give it another few tries and then it should all make a bit more sense. It’s disturbingly incoherent at first, but eventually you should be able to dance around the house and do the dishes to it.
This is one of the best and more accessible tracks from Trout Mask Replica