Friday, August 26, 2005

Captain Beefheart – Clear Spot (Reprise, 1972)

This was something of a departure for the Beefheart ensemble. After making a couple of avant-garde rock and roll masterpieces in Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off Baby, the Captain and the Magic Band started adding some ballads and some tunes that played down the stranger side of their music. Still, much of the music was well off the radar of most mainstream rock listeners, but of the “compromise” albums Beefheart made, this was arguably the most successful, although longtime Beefheart wonks may cringe at some of the slower paced material.

There's no hint of the compromise to come as the album blasts off with one of the Magic Band's classic fractured blues riffs and the Captain’s free-association lyrics on “The Low Yo-Yo Stuff.” Same thing with the twisted social commentary of “Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man,” as he supports the women’s liberation movement in his own unique way. The shock comes with the ballads, especially “Too Much Time” with its cloying background singers sounding like a schlock song from Bread or some other light-rock group. “My Head is My Only House Unless It Rains” is a ballad that actually works, however – the song is accessible, yet strange… what does the title mean, anyway?

It all adds up to a pretty strong album. While it is not as grab-you-by-the-throat amazing as Trout Mask Replica, this may be the ideal album to use when introducing someone to the strange and wonderful world of Captain Beefheart. The album has melodic songs and ballads that people can grasp, but also contains targeted blasts of the bizarre and unusual.

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