Posts Tagged ‘Lick My Decals Off Baby’

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Captain Beefheart’s 1970 album Lick My Decals Off, Baby, is a classic album.  If you can imagine (for a moment) that ‘Trout Mask Replica’ never happened and the next in The Captain’s discography was ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby,’ the chasm between lovers and haters would be just as strong. For those who could palate ’Trout Mask Replica,’ the follow up album seems somewhat “commercial” but is still very much just as lyrically abstract and equally instrumentally adventurous. The production quality of the album is unquestionably superior to its predecessor. First, gone are the “field recordings” from the Beefheart house in Woodland Hills, CA. The entirety of this follow-up album was seemingly recorded in a proper studio…and was given enough of a budget to spend precious studio time to make sure it sounded much more than a hugger-mugger arrangement of demos/outtakes.

Perhaps it’s the simple and sublimely unique charm of it all, but the “fault” that I have discovered with ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is the fact that it feels more like a scrapbook of those nine months holed up in a claustrophobic house rather than a proper and cohesive autobiography of those times. Please don’t misinterpret those words to mean it is unworthy. After all, I am an ardent supporter and one of the faithful that applaud ‘Trout Mask Replica,’  that represents one of the most landmark recordings in Pop/Rock of the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I listened to it alongside The Mothers Of Invention ‘Uncle Meat’ in a single sitting and there is quite a bit of similarity regarding the structure of each album.

Obviously, the common denominator is Frank Zappa himself who informed the construction and flow of ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ He was able to more-or-less realize what HE THOUGHT The Captain was trying to achieve rather than allowing Beefheart to express what he truly wanted (perhaps that was impossible)…but that will never be known. However, the snippets of those “field recordings” and other shenanigans that were grooved into wax seem to be more of Zappa’s perverse nature than it does the overarching concept Beefheart had in mind.

That said, ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ has all of the raucous, cantankerous, obstreperous and demanding music of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ yet has a beauty, sheen and digestive quality that I don’t think Zappa ever wanted; he endeavored to make a difficult album even less surmountable by the masses…pushing the boundaries further than The Captain even wanted. ‘Lick…’ is just as free, unencumbered and freewheeling, but unlike its predecessor, possesses more structure, stability and accessibility. However, reflecting on Beefheart’s recorded output, ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby,’ is an album that (like ‘Strictly Personal’) is absolutely essential; equally as ground-breaking.

The immediate takeaway is that the songs are more succinct and the music (thanks to the production) is much more intense than the inconsistent sonics of ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ The ‘Trout Mask…’ graduates; John French (aka: Drumbo), Mark Boston (aka: Rockette Morton) and Bill Harkleroad (aka: Zoot Horn Rollo) were all on absolute FIRE for this recording. Despite all of the insanity that occurred during the recording of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ that prepared them to achieve the “cohesiveness” on ‘Lick…’ Those three (and no disrespect to Artie Tripp whose contribution is equally significant) were nothing short of telepathic at this point.

The solo guitar piece, ‘One Rose That I Mean’ is nothing short of virtuosity. ‘Peon” is an absolute sublime bass/guitar duet that illustrates a performance between players that have spent an immense amount of time playing (fantastic and unconventional material) together. The soprano sax excursion in ’Japan Is A Dishpan’ is just as “Coltrane” as John Coltrane himself during those years where he was “searching” for something he was not able to harness within the normal bookends of traditional harmony. Well, The Captain seemed to distill that searching in the matter of just shy of three minutes.

I didn’t ever think that I would have so much to say with regard to specific tracks, but the vocals, are “in your face.” This is Beefheart at his absolute most pointed, direct, intense, focused and determined. ‘The Smithsonian Institute Blues (or the Big Dig)’ should have been the theme song to the ill-fated civil engineering disaster labeled ‘The Big Dig’ in Boston, MA as a way of expanding roadways in and out of the city to ameliorate perennial vehicle congestion. ‘The Buggy Boogie Woogie’ is absolutely an answer to our current zeitgeist.

Much like the “now assumed” controlled chaos of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ is the Pop/Rock album that is chaos perfected. The music contained therein confirms the so-called “randomness” of the former and cements it by reproducing it to amazing detail. It ossifies that “controlled chaos;” it is thoughtful, repeatable and unable to repeat the sentiment that ultimately created the art.

‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’…’ requires and demands as much a close analysis as its predecessor (not to mention it sounds a whole lot better) and is bereft of much (if not most) of the “filler” that consumes ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ If newcomers to the Beefheart camp need to warm their toes into his most fruitful/experimental period before diving-in head first, listen to ‘Strictly Personal’ and ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ before attempting the glorious miasma that is ‘Trout Mask Replica.’

PS – I know this sentiment might rival a lot of opinions but I appreciate having the ability to compose and share my thoughts in an open forum…all reactions welcome!

words all written by Brent Rusche July 2020.