Beefheart retrospective of pre-'Trout Mask Replica' material

There’s so much myth and legend surrounding the secretive Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, that it’s difficult to ever pin down what he’s going to do next. Which is exactly why we like him. Then again, if you want an overview of Beefheart as a person, you’re best off reading Pamela Des Barres’ books. Or you can listen to his records, and make up your own mind. Whichever you decide, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that he’s still mad as a box of frogs and a complete and utter genius.

I had no expectations when it came to this record (although I perhaps thought it would come in a case…). What we have here is basically a two-disc retrospective. Eight of these tracks are half-inched from Beefheart and The Magic Band’s debut album, ‘Safe As Milk’ (1967), the rest are a mix tracks from ‘Strictly Personal’ (1968), Mirror Man (1971), and 1992 release ‘I May Be Hungry But I Sure Ain’t Weird’. So it’s a strange blend of uniquely sixties psychedelia, bizarre pop, and traditional blues wailings, covering the band before the infamous ‘Trout Mask Replica’.

Opener ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do’ is straight blues, which sits very strangely next to the quirky ‘Zig Zag Wanderer’. High-energy ‘Dropout Boogie’ perches next to slow offering ‘I’m Glad’ (my personal fave here), and the almost indescribable ‘Yellow Brick Road’. I’ll leave it up to you what to make of ‘Electricity’ itself; I’m completely stumped. Possibly the nuttiest addition is ‘Beatle Bones and Smokin’ Stones’, which is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Although trying to work out which is the strangest track here is beginning to feel like an endless task…

Seeing as this is a remastered retrospective, I’d recommend it for existing fans and completists only. Anyone looking to get into Beefheart and The Magic Band should take a look at the original back catalogue first, just for a sense of perspective (and it prepares you for the twenty-minute blast of ‘Tarotplane’…).

The remastering gives you a chance to admire Ry Cooder’s original masterful guitar playing on the ‘Safe As Milk’ tracks, in particular, if you’re into that sort of thing. It also allows some of the more dated original tracks a new lease of life. As a compilation, it’s surprising that some of the more famous (is that ‘infamous’?) tracks are missing, ‘Mirror Man’ itself, for instance. But unusual takes on ‘Trust Us’, ‘Safe As Milk’, and ‘Korn Ring Finger’ more than make up for that.

Listen, by all means, but don’t try and analyse it. It just is. Much like Beefheart himself.