Trout Mask Replica / Uncle Meat

By Bart Testa

Crawdaddy, March 1976

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
(Straight STS 1053)

The Mothers Of Invention
(Reprise 2024)

We are into essences here. Masterwork. Trout Mask Replica is nothing less than this century's answer to Edgar Allen Poe. (Who dresses these tormented types?) It's a little more folksy than Poe, and has references to more casual musical forms, but for the most part it’s pretty artistic. Side four ended the relevance of TV and side three created a whole school of approximation. Alice Cooper, for example, has listened to side three and we know what will happen next.

The important thing here is internal integrity that defies complete digestion. The system is so rich.

“Fast and Bulbous Jelly was Invented by Don Vleit." These and other liner notes from Uncle Meat hint at the influence of Captain (Don Vliet) Beefheart on Zappa. Others will tell that Freak Out or Absolutely Free were the best early Mothers. Nonsense. I got bored with them two days after I lost my virginity. I find Frank Zappa rather uptight most of the time but especially on his early records, where he is still working off his high school rejections and other psycho-social tedia. On Uncle Meat his true genius, spurred by the example of Beefheart's unabashed divinity, comes out.

This is a really great band: the classic Mothers line-up. And Zappa had finally earned to produce with all the complexity he promised on the early records. "King Kong" is the finest full-side instrumental ever made. For overall construction, Uncle Meat can't be beat. Zappa himself gave up on continuing. We're Only In It For The Money was a bittersweet mixed bag. Too fancy and too tricky and too sincere. He had failed, you see, to make his movie, for which Uncle Meat was to be the soundtrack. Zappa approached U.M. grandeur with Lumpy Gravy (the spoken parts were fantastic). After that he became a musician who does comedy – clever, but who cares.

(Bart Testa)