Aka It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper, which is one of the titles this music has been known by.
Note: I have not heard the “original,” 1971 release of this album.
I don’t really know that it matters whether Van Vliet decided he hated the post-production effects after the fact because the album did so poorly or whether he always hated them. They probably shouldn’t have been added regardless. But since I haven’t heard those supposedly terrible effects, I can’t really say.
The music that they did record, before the effects were applied, and before they were forced to re-record it, is pretty incredible. It is a clear departure from Safe as Milk but nowhere near as out-there, or as clearly Beefheart’s vision, as Trout Mask Replica. It does make sense as the link between the two, but it is noticeably different from both.
To me it’s almost like the blues equivalent of what Miles Davis got up to a few years later with Jack Johnson or On the Corner, or the blues equivalent of what Can got up to around that same time, or some kind of unholy combination of both.
And that’s pretty incredible, given that Beefheart and the Magic Band sort of beat both of those great bands to the punch in terms of crazy jamming that breaks genre rules to such an extent that you don’t even know what to do.
If you really listen to this, it’s hard to see how it could come out of the same culture that produced Cream’s jams (far more mainstream jazz influenced), or Zeppelin’s, or the Allman’s for that matter. Beefheart’s harmonica and shenai (!!!) playing is just way, way out there; it belongs in a free jazz date, not with a blues band. The guitarists seemingly play against each other, but not in a “I’m better than you” way but rather in a “How can we make this sound weirder?” way. And the rhythm section seems to operate is if they were just busting out some blues rock jams at any psychedelic blues concert in the late ’60s.
The combination is bizarre and totally unique. And, like I said before, a little ahead of its time.