Monday, October 8, 2018

Like Two Flamingoes in a Fruit Fight

Captain Beefheart : Tropical Hot Dog Night

In October of 1978, Captain Beefheart returned from a four year hiatus with Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), an album some critics believe to be the best of his career.

"I'd never just want to do what everybody else did. I'd be contributing to the sameness of everything," Don Van Vliet told Richard Cromelin of Wax. "Finally I got a completely perfect picture. These people I have now are playing it better than ever before. They're playing more of a spell, right where I want it. I was dealing with a lot of shapes, textures, releases, dissolves, all kinds of things. I've always tried to play spells. I don't think music gets enough of them"

Guitarist Don Tepper says the band rehearsed madly, taking direction from Beefheart.

Often he'd use colours like 'Play that like a smoky yellow room, make it more sulphur yellow; or 'Play it like a bat being dragged out of oil and it's trying to survive, but it;s dying of asphyxiation...or 'Play like your arm's being ripped of" or he'd say 'Play it like trailer-park trash, inbred, monkey-headed cat'. The process took some time, but when I knew him more and more his language became very easy to understand."

Some of the songs had been recorded in 1976 for the original Bat Chain Puller, which wouldn't see the light of day for nearly 40 years due to a lawsuit between Frank Zappa and his Discreet Records partner Herb Cohen. Among them, "Harry Irene" and the title track which came by its odd rhythm from the windshield wipers on Van Vliet's car.

Robert Christgau gave the album an A grade, writing:

Inspired by the Captain's untoward comeback, I've dug out all his old albums and discovered that as far as I'm concerned this is better than any of them--more daring than Safe as Milk, fuller than Trout Mask Replica, more consistent than Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Without any loss of angularity or thickness, the new compositions achieve a flow worthy of Weill or Monk or Robert Johnson, and his lyrics aren't as willful as they used to be. Bruce Fowler's trombone is especially thaumaturgic adding an appropriately natural color to the electric atonality of the world's funniest ecology crank

From Down Beat Magazine:

It is impossible to describe this LP without using phrases as meaningless as “excellent” or “fascinating”. Let it suffice to say Shiny Beast is an important alternative to contemporary popular music.

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