It took some time (several listens, maybe once a year since the early 2000s) before I appreciate the lyrical and musical free-form madness of Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica”. I used to put it on play and would only notice the most conventional of the parts, then gradually get tired and switch or wander off amidst its double-sided entirety. The album contains some catchy melodies which can grab your attention. But even these will often be accompanied by some instrument which seems like working towards a different (distracting) direction. As a whole, it sounds like free-jazz without the brass instruments with non-stopping bluesy riffs and growled spoken lyrics. If you asked my honest opinion some time ago, I would have said that there were some great moments for those music lovers of an acquired taste, but otherwise a lengthy album in which I often felt like listening to two pieces of music at the same time.
Keep the emphasis on the “like” of the previous sentence though. As with many other albums, Trout Mask Replica needs to be played loud enough, if not on headphones. The album starts with a couple of ear-catching tunes. This is when I would think to myself, aha yes, this is why it is so much appreciated, listen to this beautiful genius madness. But somewhere in the middle I would give up or ignore what was going on. With all this in mind, let’s not forget that it is an experimental record of its own. And as such, it cannot be appreciated in the same way that a pop, or blues or jazz record would be, but as all of these things together plus more.
It is a record made by a bunch of ‘musical freaks’ co-habiting the same scene with the hippies. If hippie gatherings were the new weird thing for a while, where people would freak out with the aid of drugs, then this music was that by default; freak out poetry which has shallowed an electric set of instruments. As such, it is good if one reads some of the lyrics at the same time, as where cacophony starts is perhaps where the lyrics will give the meaning.
Last week, I listened to this album carefully, one of the few times to have done so. My verdict is that it deserves all the awe which has enjoyed in certain musical circles, not only because it has contributed in what experimental rock came to be later on. There have been prototypical influential records, which are applaused for the birth of a new idea, albeit one that may need refinement. This is not the case with Trout Mask Replica, a pioneering record which both defied categorisation back in its time and is also enjoyable music, a slowly rewarding album. And by the way, it is in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’.