Captain Beefheart, the only true dadaist in rock, has been victimized repeatedly by public incomprehension and critical authoritarianism. The tendency has been to chide C. B. and his Band as a potentially acceptable blues band who were misled onto the paths of greedy trendy commercialism. What the critics failed to see was that this was a band with a vision, that their music, difficult raucous and rough as it is, proceeded from a unique and original consciousness.
This became dramatically apparent with their last album. Since their music derived as much from the new free jazz and African chant rhythms as from Delta blues, the songs tended to be rattly and wayward, clattering along on wierdly jabbering high-pitched guitars and sprung rhythms. But the total conception and its execution was more in the nature of a tribal Pharoh Sanders Archie Shepp fire-exorcism than the ranting noise of the Blue Cheer strain of groups.
Thus it's very gratifying to say that Captain Beefheart's new album is a total success, a brilliant, stunning enlargement and clarification of his art. Which is not to say that it's in any sense slick, "artistic," or easy. This is one of the few bands whose sound has actually gotten rawer as they've maturedâ€"a brilliant and refreshing strategy. Again the rhythms and melodic textures jump all over the place (in the same way that Cecil Taylor's do), Beefheart singing like a lonesome werewolf screaming and growling in the night. The songs clatter aboutâ€"given a superficial listening, they seem boring and repetitious. It's perhaps the addition of saxophones (all played by the five men in the band) that first suggests what's really happening here and always has been happening in this group's music.
On "Hair Pie: Bake One," for instance, the who group gets into a raucous wrangling horn dialog that reveals a strong Albert Ayler influence. The music truly meshes, flows, and excites in a way that almost none of the selfconscious, carefully crafted jazz-rock bullshit of the past year has done. And the reason for this is that while many other groups have picked up on the trappings of the new jazz. Cap and the Magic Band are into its essence, the white-hot stream of un-"cultured" energy, getting there with a minimum of strain to boot. This is the key to their whole instrumental approach, from the drummer's whirling poly- and even a-rhythmic patterns (compare them to Sonny Murray's on Ayler's Spiritual Unity or Ed Blackwell's on Don Cherry's Symphony for Improvisers), to the explosive, diffuse guitar lines, which (like Lou Reed's for the Velvet Underground or Gary Peacock's bass playing on Spiritual Unity) stretch, tear, and distend the electric guitar's usual vocabulary with the aim of extending that vocabulary past its present strictly patterned limitationsâ€"limitations that are as tyrannically stultifying for the rock musician today as Charlie Parker's influence was for the jazzmen of the late Fifties.
I mustn't forget the lyrics. You certainly won't; the album on a purely verbal level is an explosion of maniacal free-association incantations, eschewing (with the authentic taste that assassignates standards of Taste) solemn "poetic" pretensions and mundane, obvious monosyllabic mindlessness. Where, for instance, have you heard lyrics like these: "Tits tits the blimp the blimp/The mother ship the mother ship/The brothers hid under the hood/From the olimp the blimp ... all the people stir/'n' the girls' knees tremble/'n' run 'n' wave their hands/'n' run their hands over the blimp the blimp ..."
The double record set costs as much as two regular albums, but unlike most of these superlong superexpensive items it's really sustained, and worth the money, which is perhaps not so much to pay for 27 songs and what may well be the most unusual and challenging musical experience you'll have this year.