There are people out there who are going to tell you that this is superior to Trout Mask Replica. And from an aesthetic perspective, I can see the case they’re making. (I mean, it’s more listenable for one.) But albums exist in time, as everything else does, and there’s just no getting around that this followup is less radical than its predecessor. I can foresee a time when I like this more, if I ever listen to it enough, but I don’t know how I’m going to be convinced it’s a bigger deal.
The songs are longer, the assault appears less arbitrary and it’s arguable that Zoot Horn Rollo has made all these things more digestible than Drumbo did. (As an aside, can anyone explain to me why they don’t get writing credits? That’s dirty pool.)
But some of the glee/whatthefuckness of Trout Mask Replica is experiencing the crazed fragments and their sequencing – and just the sheer extent of it all. Trout Mask Replica feels like the utter reinventions of the genres it touches on, as if an alien had tried to play the blues (and sea shantys or whatever) but had accidentally listened to free jazz. There’s less of that experience here. Sure, it is here, especially if you’ve never heard the previous album, but it is restrained in terms of the songs themselves – which are sometimes more conventional, at least in terms of avant garde rock music – the playing, which is a little less insane, and the sequencing.
I don’t mean any of this as criticism of this record, just as criticism of this record as some kind of superior cultural artifact to Trout Mask Replica. There might be a case if this had come out first but, of course, it sure didn’t.
This is still bat shit crazy experimental blues (can we even call it “blues rock”?) that verges into free jazz without warning. It is about as good as you will get for that particular niche. (Nobody does Beefheart like Beefheart.) And it is fun and amusing.
But nothing can change the fact that Trout Mask Replica was first. And given that it’s also the more radical record, the more unexpected, and the more in line with what the world thinks of Beefheart, I can’t come around to the idea that this “better”.