I had always read about the Captain Beefheart album Trout Mask Replica, but it was one of those deals where it never showed up in my haunts and I could never bring myself to order it. Sure, I had latched onto Beefheart's epic version of "Diddy Wah Diddy" from the day prior to the album, but all signs pointed to Trout Mask Replica being far different. It took finding the CD in the Lafayette Barnes & Noble to get me to buy it.
Now, I have a dilemma. I think Trout Mask Replica is brilliant and a work of mad genius. But there is no way in good conscience I can recommend it to most people I know. Trout Mask Replica is also the single weirdest collection of music I have ever listened to in all my years.
On my first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds for all the world like a bunch of people who can't play. That is as far as some folks get. Even if they finish it, they are convinced it's just bad playing. On the contrary - if you listen carefully, you realize that the band isn't playing poorly. No, there is no way you could keep hitting the same mark over and over if you couldn't play. It's just the music is not what we generally expect from music.
In attempting to explain it, I told someone it sounded like organized chaos. I realize that sounds like an oxymoron, but I can't think of a label that fits better. It's a challenge to listen to playing that is so discordant, but it can become strangely compelling if you can get it into the right frame of mind.
There's also the lyrics. They are almost like free association instead of standard phrasing. The wordplay is clever and it paints pictures in your mind. It's just that, instead of something people can understand, they get surrealism in its place.
Perhaps my favorite moment is the seemingly unplanned interlude at the end of an instrumental piece. It was apparently one of the numbers the band was performing outside, and the performance concludes with a pair of innocent passers-by wandering up. Beefheart engages them in a conversation as a dog barks in the background! The moments when we get glimpses into the making of the album and realize that real life was just as freaking weird as the music being recorded are the parts I think I like best of all.
Trout Mask Replica is a confounding work even 40 years after the fact. I personally loved it. You might find it the CD equivalent of nails on a blackboard. If you are feeling adventurous, seek it out and see how you react.