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Beefheart's mad cow disease
on December 22, 2003
My maiden voyage with Captain Beefheart begins with "Safe as Milk," and now that my mind has been completely blown, I still can't believe I had never heard this album before now. Where have you been all my life?!!
While pondering the notion of safe milk (Is it really safe?), I am first lured into the opening blues romp, "Sure "Nuff 'N Yes I Do," thinking to myself, yes, this is roots. And just when I'm feeling it's safe to go into the water, "Zig Zag Wanderer" blasts through the ethers better than any psychedelic garage artifact on that Nuggets box set. "Call on Me" is '60s-soul style Otis Redding with tinges of jangly guitar riffs, but what follows is pure "spit in your face" rock anarchy with "Dropout Boogie," keeping in mind that this stuff was recorded in 1967 years ahead of Marilyn Manson. And wud about after dat? Well, a Smokey Robinson "Ooh Baby, Baby" kind of reverie titled "I'm Glad," with soulful harmonies that are safe as, well, milk, well maybe. But beware, next stop, the incredible "Electricity," an amazing extraterrestrial voyage where Black Sabbath meets Lindsey Buckingham meets Salvador Dali on acid. This track bends my mind as stretchy as a salt-water taffy pull at a sci-fi convention, ending with what can only be described as an unidentified flying object departing terra firma into the universe beyond. And just as I'm feeling like I haven't quite touched down yet myself, along comes a comforting re-entry reference point, further cementing the notion that the Magic Band are definitely walk-ins from another planet: "The following tone is a reference tone recorded at our operating level." This reference tone lands me right smack dab on the Yellow Brick Road humming a jug-band-Dead-like ditty commensurate with my operating level. Then the time-traveling Captain throws me right into the heart of West Africa with the Koto Soto-style "Abba Zaba." An amazing, amazing track certainly influenced by Ry Cooder. Then the captain steers my ship of fools to the high point of the album, "Plastic Factory," a rolling roadhouse blues number with mojo harp playing that would make Lucinda moan. (And by the way, what's that he just said? Buffalo boner showin'? I could have sworn that's what he said.) Then we come to "Where There's Woman," a bleeding blues ballad that brings to mind Janis Joplin's "Women is Losers" sung by Tom Waits or Leon Russell. Next is a Muddy Waters kind of thing "Grown So Ugly," that segues into territory nothing short of the template that Led Zeppelin copped for years to follow. This amazing album ends with "Autumn's Child," another template for the progressive rock genre and years ahead of its time. Is he messing with my head here, or what? NO, this is not safe as milk just as I had suspected.
Well, the bonus tracks, aside from track #13, don't add much to the perfection of the original release. So really, listen to those once through, and only once. Because the original itinerary of this Captain's fantastic voyage is "the experience" itself of 12 mindblowing, revolutionary rock 'n roll classics. USDA-approved Beefheart, not for the faint of heart.