Alright, it is time to review Trout Mask Replica. While I have never heard it, there has been some chatter about this one. Alex is dying to know what I’m going to think of it, and wanted to make sure he was home while I reviewed it. I still have no idea what to expect except for having a feeling that it’s going to be nothing like the last two Beefheart records.
So far, the cover is totally grossing me out. Alex said “well, that’s what a trout mask replica looks like,” and I guess he is right. I’m kind of into the phrase “trout mask replica,” because it’s weird and has a nice ring to it with the t and c and k sounds. But I’m not feeling the photo. Also, the inside cover and back cover are basically one big psychedelic stereotype, so it’s fitting, I guess, that this album came out in 1969.
This is a double album, so I’m in for a lot of Beefheart. I just said, “alright, I’m ready to start,” and Alex said, “here it comes, I’m ready to listen to you start!” So without further ado, let’s put it on!
Ok, first question: is it skipping? Alex yelling from the kitchen, “Nope!” I feel like he yelled that with glee. Like he’s playing some kind of delightful trick on me. The song that sounds like it is skipping, is called “Frownland,” luckily it’s only a one minute and thirty nine seconds long. Unluckily it already feels like it’s been playing for an hour. Listening to this song is like when you’re doing crunches or something for one minute and it feels like it’s never going to end.
The second song, “The Dust Blows Forward ‘N The Dust Blows Back,” is just him singing with no music behind him, and it doesn’t even sound like his voice. It sounds like a dorky math teacher’s singing voice. Also, I’m noticing it’s supposed to sound like an old record, but I guess not sound like it’s skipping.
Wow, each song is really different and really short, it’s kind of hard to write about while listening. We’re already on to song three which is “Dachau Blues.” A goofy song about a concentration camp. That’s making me feel pretty uncomfortable. This is kind of like a classic blues song, except a mixture of blues and free jazz and apparently it’s about a concentration camp. I mean, the lyrics are anti-war, but he’s singing in this affected deep voice that is a little silly for the subject matter.
Alright, so while this music is weird and shocking and hard to wrap my head around so far, I’m not totally hating it. It’s definitely reminding me of contemporary art, I’m not totally sure what he’s trying to do here, but that’s okay. I am just trying to pay attention and take it in.
“Hair Pie Bake 1” is definitely channeling Albert Ayler pretty hard, and I think we all know how I feel about that. Also the phrase “Hair Pie,” is kind of making me gag. This also happens to be the longest song on side one. Four minutes and 57 seconds. I’m getting that uncomfortable exercise feeling again. Will it ever end? The guitar comes in at one point and gives it a little bit of a melody though. I’d like to watch the musicians play this song.
“Moonlight on Vermont,” feels like a reward for listening this far. I’m pretty sure if this was on a different album, I wouldn’t be saying that, but for Trout Mask Replica, “Moonlight on Vermont,” is a total reward for your ears. AKA it’s the least weird song so far.
Looking at the picture of these hippies on the back cover though, and thinking about how the 1950’s were so straight and polished and then the world basically went crazy in the 60s, it makes you realize that you really can do whatever you want with music, and you should do it. It may be annoying and loud and weird and unrelateable, but someone felt they needed to make it, and they did. I mean, let’s all let our freak flags fly, right?
I’m keeping that sentiment in mind while I put on side two. So far the first two songs have had this spoken word style over music. “Pachuco Cadaver,” had sort of country sounding music but “BIlls Corpse,” is totally experimental and barely sounds like music, and the lyrics are really overbearing. Ugh. I’m getting a headache. “Sweet, Sweet Bulbs,” seems to be following the same style, I actually didn’t realized “Bills Corpse” was over at first.
This feels like a test in art tolerance. I might not be passing. It’s kind of hard to listen to this carefully and closely, because I’m kind of waiting for it to be over. And I still have to listen to the second record! This is the ultimate art tolerance test!
At this point, I’m feeling the need to quote this entire paragraph from the Trout Mask Replica wikipedia page:
The album’s unconventional nature often alienates new listeners. Cartoonist and writer Matt Groening tells of listening to Trout Mask Replica at the age of 15: “I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. Then I listened to it a couple more times, because I couldn’t believe Frank Zappa could do this to me – and because a double album cost a lot of money. About the third time, I realised they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard”. John Harris of The Guardian later discussed the idea that the album requires several listens to “get it”, concluding that it “still sounded fucking awful” after six listens. Filmmaker David Lynch has called Trout Mask Replica his favorite album of all time, and John Lydon has also listed the album as one of his favourites, noting, “The first time I played that album, I laughed all the way through.”
It does sound like a David Lynch movie in album form. At this point I have no idea what song I’m on, all I know is that there is still “music” playing. Oh sweet jesus, it’s over. I need a fucking break. I really can’t see myself listening to this album seven times, I’m sorry Matt Groening.
It’s kind of putting me in a bad mood. If I was done listening I would be fine, but the fact that I’m only halfway there and anticipating more of the same is making me crabby. I’m going to read the wikipedia page and rest my ears for a minute. The info on there is pretty fascinating actually. I recommend reading the entire “Background” section.
Okay, I’ve had my break. Let’s bring this review home!
The first song on side three is all instrumental, and actually very tolerable. And look it’s “Hair Pie Bake 2” this sequel to one of my most hated songs on side one. Interesting. Is this an apology sequel?
OH MY GOD, There is an actual skip in Alex’s copy in “Pena,” that makes the record go “Bulbous also teardrop,” over and over again. I just assumed it was part of the record. Of course I did! I have never heard a more appropriately skipping record.
We’re at the end of our non vocal bliss on this side with “Pena.” It sounds like a strung out circus clown frantically ranting and screaming over circus music. Also, I think there is crying. This is kind of scary and disorienting.
Every time a song is over. I look at the track list to count how many more to go. I don’t even know if I can specifically comment on each song anymore. I feel drained. And crabby that I have to keep listening to this. Remember when I was being all positive about letting freak flags fly? Yeah, I’m not there anymore. Fly your freak flag Captain Beefheart, that’s still okay, just please don’t make me listen to it.
I feel like I’m in detention and just waiting for it to be over and the minutes are going by very slowly. Alex just flipped the record for me and said, “I’m kind of enjoying it.” and I said, “good for you,” and he said “mean.” So that’s what it’s like at our house right now. All thanks to this evil work of art. Okay we are on the final side. There are 8 songs left. Maybe I can try and change my attitude for this home stretch. I feel like I’m at a really bad open mike and trying to be polite with this first song, “Orange Claw Hammer.”
“Hobo Chang Ba,” is actually amusing me a little bit because of the phrase “hobo chang ba.” Maybe I’m just feeling a little slap happy though. This album is a little bit like feeling like you stayed up all night.
Oh we’re getting to the end, in “Old Fart At Play,” it sounds like he’s reading from something because someone says after the sound of a page turning, “oh man, it’s so heavy.” Whatever it is, it’s where the phrase “trout mask replica” came from. It’s probably just his notebook.
Well, the last song “Veteran’s Day Poppy,” is kind of relaxing, thank god. It’s still out there, but compared to the rest of the album, it’s like lemonade on a 90-degree day. I made it through. Alex just said, “want to start it over?” Ha fucking ha.
Alex Says: In the early 90’s, Comedy Central found its way to my parents’ cable packages. If you don’t remember this, when Comedy Central and Sci Fi Channel and shit premiered, they had almost none of their own programming. All they showed is old movies, exist programs they had syndicated, and old television shows. Comedy Central in 1994 was no great shakes, but it did have old episodes of Saturday Night Live.
The musical guests in the late 70’s and early 80’s on SNL were pretty dope, according to IMDB. They had folks like Sparks, The Funky 4+1, Jimmy Cliff. There’s that famous performance by FEAR where they had to cut to commercial because the audience was getting unruly. And Captain Beefheart performed a couple of songs from “Ice Cream For Crow” (Which will be the next and final Beefheart record Sarah reviews). He looked like someone’s weird dad playing not-quite blues, and I was totally transfixed. So I got the record.
I used to operate on the generally reliable maxim that first albums are the best, so after I got “Ice Cream For Crow,” I went out and bought “Safe As Milk.” Again, it had weird lyrics and some odd funky melodies and time signatures, but it didn’t feel inaccessible. I’m not sure what exactly led me to “Trout Mask Replica,” I’m guessing it was someone at the record store telling me that was the one to own. So somewhere down the line - I’m thinking late 90’s or so - I went out and got it.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what I got. Like Matt Groening, I hated it the first couple times I listened to it. I kept reading about it and thinking “this is it? This is the album every was talking about?” I never developed an intense relationship with this album, but I can hear bits and pieces of it in dozens of bands I love a lot. It’s definitely a musical watershed. But I definitely connect more with the music that derives from this album than the album itself.