Song: Son Of Mirror Man – Mere Man (4/8)
Album: Strictly Personal (1968)
Artist: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Strictly Personal (Blue Thumb, 1968), recorded in place of Ry Cooder, is ruined by the effects added by the producer during the mix, that render unlistenable a great part of the work. Van Vliet ultimately disavowed the album. Beefheat’s rejection notwithstanding, the album ventures beyond every previous experiment: vocal gargles, orchestral swoons, and cannibalistic rhythms are used to distort the blues, iliciting the atmosphere of an infernal happening. The musicians compose a hallucinating mosaic of sounds at the edge of premeditated cacophony, even if in fact every cut follows a well defined line without ever losing control. Often a veil of alterations and distortions, a white noise spread thick, prevents the fruition of the musical gags of Beefheart & Co., although it leaves the listener able to sense its capacity. It is the ultimate act of recording industry sabotage, and the Freaks are the victims. The album contains eight medium-length cuts. Rugged and desperate, it presents itself , without interruptions, as one entity.
Despite the production’s effort to hide the smuttiness of the sound, the album reveals an impressive number of avant garde solutions. The free experimentation of jazz, in particular, is the true inspiration behind the work. The delirious vocals in Ah Feel Like Ahcid, built on a simple, sleepy instrumental base with echoes of Son House’s Death Letter, and Us Trust, with its tribal and demonic grand finale, where the climax is reached with a scream halfway between the call of a muezzin, the howl of a witch and the high note of an opera tenor, and the creative adornments of Gimme Dat Harp Boy, with obscene folk wit, rotten harmonica and obsessive rhythm on the riff of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, confer to Beefheart the stature of singer without equal, in the history of both blues and jazz.
The personal homage to the Merseybeat, Beatle Bone ‘ n’ Smokin’ Stones, with a parody of Strawberry Fields Forever that irritated John Lennon, is – beside the personal venting of a misunderstood artist – one of the most powerful satires on the presumed deities of the Mount Olympus of rock music: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.