Rating: 8.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Genre Classic Released: 1973 Specific Genre: Hard Rock, Rock Opera Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock Label: Track
1.1 I Am the Sea 1.2 The Real Me 1.3 Quadrophenia 1.4 Cut My Hair 1.5 The Punk and the Godfather 1.6 I’m One 1.7 The Dirty Jobs 1.8 Helpless Dancer 1.9 Is It in My Head? 1.10 I’ve Had Enough 2.1 5:15 2.2 Sea and Sand 2.3 Drowned 2.4 Bell Boy2.5 Doctor Jimmy 2.6 The Rock 2.7 Love, Reign o’ver Me
Can you see the real me?
Where Tommy (1969) staked its claim as progressive rock by fusing the posture of hard rock with the aesthetics of an all-frills, no-shame broadway show extravaganza, Quadrophenia decidedly takes its cues from Richard Wagner – in posture and attitude, I mean, less in musical terms. A Ring of the Nibelung with a cockney setting, this is Rock Opera with capitals. Everything about it is enormous: the riffs, the vocal arcs, how it shifts between ethereal, foggy gentleness and hard-driving rock&roll with in a song (“Punk and the Godfather”, “I’m One”), the way the motifs and choruses built up and intertwine within a song and across the double-LP. And Wagner does loom large musically on Entwistle’s valkyrian, otherworldly French horn motif dominating the album (it shows up throughout, but check out “Helpless Dancer” for quick reference).
Re-using the overture/”underture” idea from Tommy with recurring motifs, it is difficult to single out songs as highlights – what I’m left with after going through the first two sides is just an overall sense of high-quality music (again, a ‘classical’ reception mode transported through a number of pure hard rock riffs). I remain slightly suspicious of how they beef up the songs with big horn sections and the symphonic keyboard element (pretty new stuff for this context back then) – the Who’s unique strength lay in both mass and volatility, and while this is a massive album, its tide-like, imperative pull is dampened somewhat the longer it runs, as evermore mass comes at the cost of sustainable excitement. Yet this is possibly the Who’s “largest” realized project, and as such: a sure classic in the field of high-concept hard rock.
Rating: 10/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Backdoor Classic Released: 1993 Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock Label: Rykodisc
1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral
I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!
If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.
Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.
Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.
Rating: 10/10 Rated as: Box Set Album Status: Definite, Complete Recordings Released: 2011 Recorded: 1965–1972 Specific Genre: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Roots Rock, Country Rock Main Genre: Rock, Psychedelia Label: Columbia/Legacy
Flow, River, Flow
Oh dear, it’s that rare beast: a practically perfect box set! How about that. This handily sized box collects the remastered bonus track–reissues of all Byrds albums put out by Columbia/Legacy. These reissues usually featured more than half a dozen bonus tracks each. The box thus contains, quoting AMG’s John Bush, „over 90-percent of their career, basically everything they released, all 12 albums (aside from their 1973 reunion album recorded for Asylum)“.
This isn’t entirely accurate, as it’s only 11 albums – but 13 CDs. Bonus-CD 7 is comprised of early Gram Parsons‘ International Submarine Band tracks and alternate tracks from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Add another bonus CD called Unissued (CD 11) which collects excellent bonus material from their original (Untitled) album. This includes unreleased studio tracks that didn’t make the album, the studio version of the album’s live „Lover of the Bayou“, an additional interesting Little Feat cover marking the band’s way into the swampy and southern areas of roots rock. Notably, Little Feat’s debut album wasn’t even published yet when the Byrds covered them on their album. This is really all you might want from a box set like this, the missing reunion album notwithstanding.
With boxes, I personally prefer if the original albums are left alone on a CD and the bonus material comes on separate CDs. But since this collects remastered reissues that already had bonus tracks on them, that wasn’t an option. Well, so be it. I especially enjoy that the liner notes are not just dedicated to the nostalgia of some prominent fan or an attempt at further mythologizing: Every track is listed with essential information, recording date, previous releases, writing credits, et cetera. While each of the album tracks get a short informative paragraph providing context, the information is a bit scarce concerning the alternate takes of the bonus CDs. A little more historiography would have been nice there: I mean, why are there alternate Sweetheart of the Rodeo-takes with Gram Parsons on lead vocals that had been overdubbed with vocals by Roger McGuinn for the published album? Why is there zero context provided about the previously unissed studio and live takes on bonus CD 11 (titled Unissued)? I know you can read all about these things elsewhere, but these boxes are the decentralized mini-archives to collect such lore.
The box comes in a minimalistic and nice (very affordable) package, sports vinyl replicas and fits in your shelf next to other CDs. Even if you’re not an absolute fan, this is the box to get – they are an extremely important band going through several interesting phases which make for a nice journey here: from sand-bleached, mellow pop folksters to psychedelic Westcoast rokoko to Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired roots & desert rockers. All phases have stellar highlights. So: here it is, the quintessential psych-folk-roots-rock band represented in a near perfect setting, at least for box set standards.
Rating: 5.9/10 Rated as: Archival / Live Album Album Status: Obsolete Released: 1991 Recorded: 1970 Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock, Hard Rock Label: Polydor
1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun
… and the man with the guitar!
Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.
This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.
This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.
Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.
Rating: 6.7/10 Rated as: Collection / Live Compilation Status: Must for Fans Released: 2002 Recorded: 1972–1980 Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Avant-Prog Label: Viper
1 Click Clack 2 Old Black Snake 3 Grow Fins 4 Peon 5 Golden Birdies 6 Electricity 7 Sugar Mama 8 Orange Claw Hammer 9 Gimme Dat Harp Boy 10 Dalis Car 11 Beatle Bones ’n‘ Smokin‘ Stones 12 Flavor Bud Living 13 Nowadays a Womans Gotta Hit a Man 14 Abba Zaba 15 Hothead 16 Safe as Milk 17 Drop Out Boogie 18 Kandy Korn
You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want
These are previously unavailable live cuts of Beefheart gone wild from seven shows between 1972 and 1980. While these are all tinny and unequalised bootleg recordings, through all the hissing and static, there’s enough left to let you hear these must have been truly magnetising performances.
There is no track here where the terrible sound quality truly ruins the aura for me – even the jurassic cackling of “Sugar Mama”, stomping along at eight minutes, is a bit like finding a dinosaur fossil: not the real living thing, but how cool is that skull? Besides the tracks that are relatively tolerable to the ear and well-performed (a fierce „Grow Fins“, „Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man“ and a deadpan „Drop Out Boogie“), there’s a mind-blowing definite instrumental (!) version of „Electricity“ – six ferocious minutes of pure blues-goes-prog fury delving into a riff section that wasn’t on the album cut and worth every cent of this whole CD. A huge bass, barb-wire guitar riffs and wild harp jamming.
While these are different incarnations of the Magic Band, you couldn’t really tell from their sound and repertoire: Abstract instrumentals, croaky interludes of blues shouting, hard hitting psych-rockers. There’s some entertaining stage banter, but mainly this is interesting because of its raw and unpolished quality. The lengthy primitive blues stomp of „Sugar Mama“ is interesting in this aspect as Beefheart wouldn’t do this particular thing on record after 1972 (or more precisely, after the Mirror Man sessions) anymore. Not that it is a great blues or any such thing, it’s just intriguing to hear how he gets the audience to clap along to the rhythm as all the instruments stop and he dives into a witch doctor blues persona, working his own voice like a synthesizer, squeeling, murmuring and chanting to an audibly mesmerized audience.
One note about the repertoire: The compilation shows us a programme of early 1970s material, with actually just one track dating from later than his 1972-albums (it’s „Hothead“), even though more than half of the tracks date from perfomances later than 1975. Now, given the fact that he took a forced break from releasing between 1974 to 1978, this isn’t really surprising. Still: Seven songs from a show late in 1980, meaning this is the Ice Cream For Crow band, and, except for „Hothead“, they basically play Safe As Milk . And: It’s all great! Even the sound quality for the 1980-show is quite decent. Anyhow, it is absolutely worth seeking out for fans, to get a picture of live-Beefheart during his lost mid-1970s period, to get some unholy blues shants, and to be blown awa by that “Electricity”-take.
Trivia: I don’t know if the two things are related, but the amazing (and definite) other live album available titled I’m Gonna Do What I Wanna Do might have taken its title from an incident here: After „Flavor Bud Living“, a guy from the audience calls out for „Glider“ (just pause a minute and imagine being at a Beefheart-concert. Is that what you’d request? No offense though, „Glider“ is great), to which the Captain replies: „You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want!“
Rating: 7.1/10 Rated as: Archival / Live Album Status: Must for Fans Released: 2011 Recorded: 1972 Specific Genre: Krautrock Main Genre: Experimental Rock, Rock Undertones: Ambient, Free Improvisation, Psychedelic Rock Label: Spoon 40SPOON6/7
[Disc 1: 1.1 Paperhouse 1.2 Mushroom 1.3 Oh Yeah 1.4 Halleluhwah 1.5 Aumgn 1.6 Peking O 1.7 Bring Me Coffee or Tea] Disc 2: 2.1 Mushroom 2.2 Spoon 2.3 Halleluhwah
Love me! You gotta love me!
Tago Mago is – at least in recurring intervals – my favourite album. But let’s talk about the live bonus material from the 40th-anniversary edition. The bonus CD with the live material contains three tracks from a live performance in 1972. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality isn’t quite up to snuff – aside from being murky, especially Karoli’s guitar suffers from being buried in the mix, sounding as if he played from down the hallway. Well, we do with what we can get. I’ll go into the details, but what you get it is what you want and expect: Anxious, extremely rhythm-driven nightmares, amazing examples of free form tension-and-release, some chaotic nonsense, irresistible grooves: bleak, hypnotic, riveting. Well, it’s Can. What did you expect?
Two main points: The rather murky sound quality doesn’t really damage the enterprise, because it fits the claustrophobic, future-noir sound. But besides a riveting second track and an at least interesting mini-version of „Halleluhwah“, there is nothing to learn about Can here that can’t be experienced as good or better on other available live material. Secondly: The reason to get this is the 30-minute second track „Spoon“ which features everything you want in a Can jam: disorientation, paranoia, exploration and a beautiful, ethereal ending in an ambient-style hinting at 1973’s Future Days. Only half of this jam is available on The Lost Tapes (as is the less interesting opener „Mushroom“, a rare jam where they lose focus and decide to run the thing into the ground). The third track is a brief nine-minute „Halleluhwah“, in an interesting version where everything happens slightly too fast, it plays like a one-act-version of the epic original and fades out before the climax – I can only assume due to some technical error or scrambled tapes.
PS. The cover art hasn’t been changed. The photograph you see on the cover is a detachable carton sleeve to protect the gatefold vinyl replica inside, featuring the famous original head and is very nicely done all in all. Complete with several interesting liner notes by fawning fellow musicians but little historical information, it is a beautifully made reissue, less informative than it could be.
Rating: 5.0/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: for Fans, of Historical Interest Released: 1979 Specific Genre: Art Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Art Pop, Worldbeat, New Wave Label: RCA Victor
1 Fantastic Voyage 2 African Night Flight 3 Move On 4 Yassassin 5 Red Sails 6 D.J. 7 Look Back in Anger 8 Boys Keep Swinging 9 Repetition 10 Red Money
Can you hear it fall? Can you hear it well? Can you hear it at all?
Thus, after all the Berlinnovation that was part neurotic pop overkill and part ambient art rock, Bowie’s back to albums where the single is the best thing about it. With „Look Back in Anger“ being by far the most captivating song on here (if only because it sounds like a left-over from Station to Station), the listener isn’t left with much else to admire. Lodger is an album filled with unwelcome leftovers of an overcharged party: So many quirky worldbeat ideas in the production, so many ways to subvert the usual verse-chorus-structure, just so much of anything: nothing here has a lively spark. This is what you get if you put the two brains inventing the sound of the 1980s in a jar.
Surprisingly, there are two tracks that are blueprints for the sound of Blur. „Boys Keep Swinging“ is the (less exciting, but nonetheless) direct mother of Blur‘s song „M.O.R.“, and the eerie, driven „Repetition“ is like a submerdged sonic blueprint for the whole Parklife album. Bowie’s imprint on Blur is evident elsewhere anyhow, but who would’ve thought that of all his albums, this is the one Albarn had on the top shelf. Odd. This makes it an essential purchase for historically interested Blur fans like me. [Afterthought: It’s not as odd as I used to think, Bowie/Eno have now received writing credits after „legal intervention“.]
Bowie is tired on this album and who can blame him after 1977. „Red Money“ is Bowie’s own irritatingly crummy version of the great „Sister Midnight“ he wrote and produced for Iggy Pop. It is basically the intstrumental base track with different lyrics, sounding limp and canned. „Red Sails“ is an inferior Neu! track with Bowie-vocals and less interesting guitars than any Neu! track ever had (hold your horses: I’m not saying Adrian Belew isn’t exciting, he’s one of my favourites. But he’s worse at being Michael Rother than Rother himself). Many things here, including the in a sense exciting and strange worldbeat innovations, simply sound very forced. It is squeezed, pressure-grouted Bowie, so to speak.
Taking a look at the grand scheme of things for a second, one could say that Lodger is the ultimate transition album from the 1970s to the 1980s – in a rather backwards sense: It portrays what didn’t work as well anymore in the 1970s and foreshadows what wouldn’t be that great about the 1980s. Essential for historical reasons.
Rating: 3.7/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: of Zeitgeist Interest Released: 1996 Specific Genre: Alternative Rock Main Genre: Rock, Alternative Rock Undertones: Hard Rock, Grunge, Alternative Metal Label: One Little Indian
1 Yes It’s Fucking Political 2 All I Want 3 She’s My Heroine 4 Infidelity (Only You) 5 Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) 6 Twisted (Everyday Hurts) 7 We Love Your Apathy 8 Brazen (Weep) 9 Pickin‘ on Me 10 Milk Is My Sugar 11 Glorious Pop Song
They do have
sweeping choruses and angry anthemic songs like „All I Want“ and „Hedonism“ (a
good, almost year-defining single of course) which are just made for big stages
and a teenage crowd to chant along, they have pop instincts and they have a
radio-friendly grungey hard-rock sound quite typical of the period – this
is the politicized phase of grunge, after having gone through the horrors of adolescent
angst, so to speak. Skin is a commanding singer with a supernova’s worth of
charisma, but listen to this if you want to know what went wrong when the
market dressed up anti-commercialism all fancy. Hard riffs and about two or
three melodic ideas aren’t enough for nearly fifty minutes of music. About
three songs stick – the rest gets washed down the drain by its own boring
arrangement and lack of hooks.
As far as the overall attitude goes, I’m all for Rage Against the Windmills, but the lyrics here do mostly tap into protest as a performance, not as a communicative, topical form. I mean, there’s a place for that, but when Skin belts out lines like „Yes it’s fucking political! / Everything’s political!“, it’s not much of a manifest – she’s right, of course, but the performance, stressing pure attitude over ideas, hasn’t really aged well. They put words like „The poorer you are, the better / that gives me more control“ into the mouth of whatever social or political entity you want to attribute this to – just make sure that entity is part of the „establishment“. Or – alas! – is it the establishment in YOURSELF!? Beware! This is self-conscious, but non-meta. If it riled up folks back then – sure, I’ll take it.
For all the
draining emotions of despair and rage here, in the very end, the band does
something quite corageous by facing their actual musical forte: the fact that
„Glorious Pop Song“ – no irony here – is exactly that.
Rating: 1.6/10 Rated as: Bootleg / Live / Archival Album Status: of Archival Interest Released: 2001 (1994 Galaxy) Recorded: ? [1960s/70s] Specific Genre:Latin Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock Label: ZYX Music
CD1: 1.1 Jingo 1.2 El Corazon Manda 1.3 La Puesta del Sol 1.4 Persuasion 1.5 As the Years Go Passing By 1.6 Acapulco Sunrise 1.7 Coconut Grave 1.8 Hot Tamales CD2: 2.1 With a Little Help from My Friends 2.2 Every Day I Have the Blues 2.3 Jam in E 2.4 Travelin‘ Blues 2.5 Jammin‘ Home 2.6 Jammin G. Minor
Worthless packaging, zero information
This ultra-cheap double-issue is identical to the equally crummy releases Greatest Hits Live Vol 1 and Greatest Hits Live Vol 3 (don’t be fooled, as opposed to the Wilburys, there actually is a Vol 2). The title of these is a complete joke, as this is indistinct live bootleg jamming of what must be late 1960s/ early 1970s recordings. Atrocious sound quality, worthless packaging, zero information, and a totally indiscriminate track selection. If you came here for the novelty of hearing Santana play the Beatles’ „With a Little Help From My Friend“, you’ll get that novelty, but not much more.
Most of CD1 is simply their early 1970s latin rock jams, CD2 is surprisingly blues-tinged, as already indicated by the song titles. That stresses one of Santana’s more overlooked musical sources (B.B. King, for one). Either way, there are numerous bootlegs of exactly these and similar live cuts on the market, and while this isn’t bad music at all, it’s just very uninteresting and badly recorded stuff. Definitely not worth seeking out, even for fans.
Rating: 8.0/10 Rated as: Archival / Box Set Box Set Status: Must for Fans Released: 1999 Recorded: 1965–1982 Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Experimental, Psychedelic Rock, Field Recordings Label: Revenant
CD 1: Just Got Back from the City (1965–67) 1.1 Obeah Man (1966 Demo) 1.2 Just Got Back from the City (1966 Demo) 1.3 I’m Glad (1966 Demo) 1.4 Triple Combination (1966 Demo) 1.5 Here I Am I Always Am (Early 1966 Demo) 1.6 Here I Am I Always Am (Later 1966 Demo) 1.7 Somebody in My Home (1966 Live) 1.8 Tupelo (1966 Live) 1.9 Evil Is Going On (1966 Live) 1.10 Old Folks Boogie (1967 Live) 1.11 Call on Me (1965 Demo) 1.12 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (1967 Demo) 1.13 Yellow Brick Road (1967 Demo) 1.14 Plastic Factory (1967 Demo) CD 2: Electricity (1967–68) 2.1 Electricity (1968 Live) 2.2 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (1968 Live) 2.3 Rollin N Tumblin (1968 Live) 2.4 Electricity (1968 Live9 2.5 Yer Gonna Need Somebody on Yer Bond (1968 Live) 2.6 Kandy Korn (1968 Live) 2.7 Korn Ring Finger (1967 Demo) CD 3: Trout Mask House Sessions (1969) 3.1 (Untitled 1) 3.2 (Untitled 2) 3.3 Hair Pie: Bake 2 3.4 Hair Pie: Bake 2 3.5 (Untitled 5) 3.6 Hobo Chang Ba 3.7 (Untitled 7) 3.8 Hobo Chang Ba (Take 2) 3.9 Dachau Blues 3.10 Old Fart at Play 3.11 (Untitled 11) 3.12 Pachuco Cadaver 3.13 Sugar N Spikes 3.14 (Untitled 14) 3.15 Sweet Sweet Bulbs 3.16 Frownland (Take 1) 3.17 Frownland 3.18 (Untitled 18) 3.19 Ella Guru 3.20 (Untitled 20) 3.21 She’s too Much for My Mirror 3.22 (Untitled 22) 3.23 Steal Softly Through Snow 3.24 (Untitled 24) 3.25 My Human Gets Me Blues 3.26 (Untitled 26) 3.27 When Big Joan Sets Up 3.28 (Untitled 28) 3.29 (Untitled 29) 3.30 China Pig CD 4: Trout Mask House Sessions (Storytime Portion) (1969) 4.1 Blimp Playback 4.2 Herb Alpert 4.3 Septic Tank 4.4 We’ll Overdub It 3 Times Video 4.5 Electricity (Live Cannes 1968) 4.6 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (Live Cannes 1968) 4.7 She’s Too Much for My Mirror (Amougies, Belgium, 1969) 4.8 My Human Gets Me Blues (Amougies, Belgium, 1969) 4.9 When Big Joan Sets Up (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.10 Woe Is Uh Me Bop (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.11 Bellerin Plain (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.12 Click Clack (Paris 1972) CD 5: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Grow Fins (1969–82) 5.1 My Human Gets Me Blues (Live 1969) 5.2 When Big Joan Sets Up (Live 1971) 5.3 Woe Is Uh Me Bop (Live 1971) 5.4 Bellerin Plain (Live 1971) 5.5 Black Snake Moan (Radio Phone-In 1972) 5.6 Grow Fins (Live 1972) 5.7 Black Snake Moan II (Radio 1972) 5.8 Spitball Scalped Uh Baby (Live 1972) 5.9 Harp Boogie I (Radio 1972) 5.10 One Red Rose That I Mean (Live 1972) 5.11 Harp Boogie II (Radio 1972) 5.12 Natches Burning (Radio 1972) 5.13 Harp Boogie III (Radio Phone-In 1972) 5.14 Click Clack (Live 1973) 5.15 Orange Claw Hammer (Radio 1975) 5.16 Odd Jobs (Piano Demo 1975) 5.17 Odd Jobs (Band Demo 1976) 5.18 Vampire Suite (Worktapes/Live 1980) 5.19 Melltron Improv (Live 1978) 5.20 Evening Bell (Piano Worktape 1980) 5.21 Evening Bell (Guitar Worktape 1982) 5.22 Mellotron Improv (Live 1980) 5.23 Flavor Bud Living (Live 1980)
I should dip myself into that Coca-Cola
This box set is subject to the box
set-curse more than any other I’m aware of. There are musical pearls next to
bits recorded from the back of the studio (minutes of mumbling, chair clicking,
airplane noises from outside the window), there’s historically indispensable
stuff next to, well, just stuff. Also, it
manages to seem expansive and inomplete all at the same time: There is so much
previously unreleased material here that it doesn’t really leave you asking for
even more Trout Mask outtakes or even
more radio snippets. But then, this hardly fulfills any criteria of a
‚historically comprehensive‘ box set: It’s just a huge ragbag of anything that
could be interesting to the fanatic followers of Beefheart. These, though, will
be delighted, because in a sense, this doesn’t plays as a box set but, more
fitting, like very precise representation of Beefheart’s career: Full of bursts
of energy and brilliance, full of holes and frustration – but extremely
rewarding for those that listen closely.
This mostly doesn’t make for a
coherent listening experience – but just mostly. The five CDs thankfully all
follow an at least chronological coherence. This redeems some drawbacks in the
sequencing per CD. The true problem is: To issue any of this stuff only makes
sense within a larger context. There is no way they could have split the „good
stuff“ from the scraps, you have to take in the whole sludged affair or just
The first CD is a bunch of early
blues rock numbers that never made it on an album (and some that did). The
sound is similar to Safe as Milk, and
since these are all complete demos or live cuts, you can actually listen
through the whole thing with excitement. It’s a primal, terrific version in
that rousing mid-1960s style between R&B, psychedelia and deep blues. For
Beefheart fans, this first CD is inexpendable. The band is already in full
flight, Beefheart is already all there. The sound quality is mostly murky (but
the swampy approach lets you accept that), and the band’s playing is basic but
they rock hard and fierce. Given that the early cuts are from 1966, this must
have been one of the heavier bands at the time – raw, ramshackle. This CD also
satisfies the box set-buyer in all respects: You get cuts of later album tracks
(„Call on Me“, „Yellow Brick Road“), which are inferior to the later album
tracks, but interesting from an evolutionary perspective. You get awesomely
grooving rhythm/blues/rock numbers that are every bit as good as the ones on Safe as Milk („Here I Am I Always Am“, „Obeah Man“). And
finally, you get Beefheart performing numbers of his idols („Evil is Going On“,
„Tupelo“, „Somebody in My Home“) – all absolutely terrific swamp blues in
imposing John Lee Hooker- and Howlin’ Wolf-manner.
The second CD is in a similar
vein, collecting live records from apparently European tours. Manic versions of
standards like „Rollin’ n’ Tumblin’“ are here, as well as some Mirror Man-era pieces. Hard, driven, uncompromising blues
rock. This is also listenable from beginning to end.
With the third CD, the promised
box-set-problems start. The whole CD comprises evidently the leftovers they
could find in the trashbin of the studio where Trout Mask Replica
was recorded. You start of with fifteen minutes of documentary style noises
which seem to stem from a recording device pickin up sounds while the band
members were still preparing. Okay, you can skip this, so I don’t mind. The
rest is purely instrumental versions of Trout Mask Replica.
These are practice runs of the album tracks, there is no ‚evolutionary‘ aspect
here. I must say that I like to listen to these compositions bare-boned,
without Beefheart’s voice-beef, so to speak. You actually get a very direct approach
to their immediate groove and compositional structure. And for these like me
which are at least as interested in his compositional skills as the vocals,
this remains an interesting listen. So, while this is far too long as a CD (i
mean, this basically is all of Trout Mask Replica without the vocals plus some additional
scraps and tuning-up), I still am happy with this. For some, this probably is
expendable. Why listen to the relatively unedited, non-vocalised version of Trout Mask Replica? Why should I listen to the band tuning
up for minutes? I understand the questions. But hey, at least you get to witness
how the conversation with the kids who just moved here from Reseda ended up on the
album. The most obscure quasi-gem I could find on here is the untitled 29th
track – before the band goes to record „China Pig“, you can hear a jam of the blues
standard „Candy Man“ for about a minute. Why is this interesting? I don’t know.
I just never knew that the Captain had done at least one minute of „Candy Man“
in his life.
Then, CD 4. Just forget the musical aspect: There isn’t any. It’s Beefheart talking, some noises, Beefheart joking about Herb Alpert, and that’s it. 12 minutes of unedited documentary studio babble (incomprehensible for the most part). Don’t get upset though, in the original package, this is actually a VCD. With moving pictures. So, no reason to listen to this on your CD-player. But you do get to see video clips, comprising live versions of songs (2 from Safe as Milk, 3 from Trout Mask Replica, 2 from Lick My Decals Off, Baby and „Click Clack“ from The Spotlight Kid, taken between 1968 and 1973). These are great, the live setting showcasing how musical everybody involved with Beefheart was. You can watch these on Youtube nowadays, of course.
Finally, the 5th CD. This is the
most imbalanced piece of the whole affair, I guess because they just threw
anything on there from his post-Trout Mask Replica period
they couldn’t fit anywhere else (with a time span of 1969–1982). So, in no
particular, haphazard order, you get a lot of live recordings (nothing
exceptional), Beefheart performing short pieces of blues harp and acapella blues
on the radio (terrible quality, but cool stuff), some more live recordings
which border on performance art or futurism „sound machines“ and were not
actually meant for the CD-format, I presume („Spitball Scalped Uh Baby“), and
some weird demos for more complex avant-pieces.
And buried in the middle of this looong CD, you get the most stunning record of the whole box set, which is the Captain performing „Orange Claw Hammer“ with Frank Zappa on acoustic guitar for the radio. Zappa’s simple strumming fleshes out that this song follows the actual structure of a sea shanty (which could only be guessed at with the acapella version on Trout Mask Replica), but that’s good, because now we have both: an avant-garde acapella version of a surrealistic sea shanty and a beautiful acoustic guitar version of that same sea shanty. Then the mixed bag continues, many experimental live recordings, Beefheart messing with a mellotron in Sun Ra-manner – with the result that you realise Sun Ra actually could play the instrument. Some of these are improv-sketches, frustrating Beefheart and audiences alike („Sun Ra!“ someone keeps shouting on „Mellotron Improv (Live 1980)“, causing Beefheart to yell at the crowd, violently batter the keys and ask „Who was that, Liberace?“). Some others, though, are quite interesting. I dig both the versions of „Odd Jobs“, while I admit that this is already hardcore Beefheart-ology. Nothing to convert people. The „Odd Jobs“-piano demo is strangely forlorn and beautiful – you find the most realised and best version of that lost piece on the reconstructed Bat Chain Puller album from 2012. Most of this CD, naturally, comes in just about bearable sound quality.
So. What we have here then is a box
set which contains enough to make it essential for the fan – both from a
historical (CD1 and CD5) and a musical (CD1 and CD5… and partly CD2 and even 3)
perspective. Everyone else should stay well away from this. This is the last
territory of Beefheart-land one should turn his attention to. If you’re the
enthusiastic explorer in the old spirit, you’ll find plenty of adventure and
condiment on this wild, wide, dangerous and tedious jungle continent.