Beefheart was dissatisfied with Bob Krasnow’s tinkering with 1968′s Strictly Personal, so he was tempted by Frank Zappa’s offer of complete artistic freedom on Trout Mask Replica, on what’s more, a double album, which was still a relative rarity in 1969, despite Freak Out! (possibly the first such, an audacious move by Zappa on what was his debut release), Blonde On Blonde, Electric Ladyland, The White Album and Wheels Of Fire. An Evening with Wild Man Fischer on Straight Records was also a double, so credit has to be given to Frank Zappa for his sheer chutzpah as producer. His production values have had their critics, admittedly, but in many ways they were perfect for the audio verite of Trout Mask Replica. It’s hard to imagine the white-coated technicians at, say, Abbey Road, dealing with the material and the methods that Beefheart and the Magic Band would have presented them with.
The sound of Trout Mask Replica has been described extensively in rock literature, and also on YouTube (do check out Samuel Andreyev, although I do have reservations about his need to break the music down to its constituent parts, thus rather rubbing off the ‘fairy dust’ somewhat, in my view), so I don’t intend to bore the reader any further with ham-fisted attempts from yet another ‘busy music nerd’. However, I’d like to suggest the seven types that the 28 tracks on TMR can be broken down into, if anything just to point out the sheer variety on offer:
1) The Blues Stuff - Dachau Blues (rather tasteless, I’ll admit); China Pig (the only rock track that I know dedicated to a porcelain piggy bank, with accompaniment from earlier Magic Band member, Doug Moon,which is probably the ‘straightest’ number on the whole album); My Human Gets Me Blues. Clue - none of these, apart from Pig, are blues as you or I would know them.
2)The Free Jazz Stuff - Hair Pie(s), Ant Man Bee. John French hated Beefheart’s reed work. Me, I think it works, especially on Ant Man Bee, especially when Beefheart cuts in at the 1:38 mark. It probably puts a lot of people off, however. Most people think free improvisers can’t play; Beefheart probably couldn’t, really.
3)The Ecology Stuff - spread throughout the album, and later reflected in his artwork. This concern marks him out; ecology wasn’t on most people’s agenda in 1969.
4) The Acapella Poetry Stuff - The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back, Well, Orange Claw Hammer. Barmy, beat-influenced rants about dead-beats and ‘pirate friends’ in general. Some of the best tracks of all, imho.
5)The’ Fairly-Straight Rock’ Stuff- not much of this, to be frank. Sugar N’ Spikes, Ella Guru, When Big Joan Sets Up, Veteran Days Poppy (at a pinch).
6) ‘Love Songs’ - Ella Guru, Pachuco Cadaver, Bill’s Corpse, Sweet Sweet Bulbs, She’s To Much for My (or anybody else’s) Mirror. These are the on’s that spring to mind, but hey, we are in TMR territory here!! No ‘Moon in June’ on this one.
7) Just Plain Weird - Plenty of these. Take your pick from Neon Meate Dream of an Octopus (the unconscious mind of such a creature, rendered in alliterative word/weird associations and assonances, if that’s your thing), The Blimp (utterly hatstand), Pena (this one is the one, towards the start of the original Side Three, which most people drew the line at, the one which Antennae James Semens probably got death threats about), and still one that I have ultimate reservations about. Tantamount to unlistenable, it still fascinates me, 43 years on.
So there you have it. Trout Mask Replica. Still as opaque and unique as it ever was. And ever will be. And the only thing that I’ve felt needed three blogs to get out of my system.
It would appear that Blonde on Blonde predated Freak Out! by about a month.