SUN ZOOM SPARK 1970-1972 (4CD)
Includes the albums Lick My Decals Off Baby, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot plus a CD of rarities and out-takes and a 20 page booklet.
If I was the kind of fella that sat around compiling lists of my all-time favourite albums, I can guarantee that two of my top ten would be found in this rather special package alone. So, to find that these special treats have been re-mastered and re-packaged in a high quality box set among other excellent recordings, and with a fine 20 page booklet to accompany it, it seems as though all my Christmases have come at once!
Captain Beefheart would of course be no-one’s recommendation of an easy listen, but at his best his recordings are endlessly rewarding and enjoyable in ways nobody else could lay claim to. And this box set includes much of his very best stuff.
For established fans, the most significant inclusion here is the Lick My Decals Off, Baby album, the 1970 follow up to his ground-breaking Trout Mask Replica album, as recorded with boyhood friend, Frank Zappa, acting as producer. Decals has, for complicated legal and licensing reasons, never before had a full and proper release on CD and has only previously been available as a Japanese (possibly illegal) import. On this album, Beefheart took the unusual rhythmic patterns and sound-scapes developed from the near- field recording vibe on Trout Mask Replica and re-invented them (and produced) himself in a proper recording studio context. It is undoubtedly a weird and, on first hearing, a shocking experience but it has its own twisted logic that makes perfect sense once you have attuned your ears to it. Lyrically, it combines seemingly nonsensical lyrics, inventive puns and serious themes (man’s greedy plundering of the natural environment, animal rights, etc) and musically? Well, it’s blues Jim, but not as we know it.
The other album included here that would be a shoe-in on my list of Top Ten albums is 1972’s Clear Spot. This sensational album variously incorporates more identifiable rock, blues, soul and R&B influences into a more conventional and commercial direction. But, when your song titles include Big Eyed Beans From Venus, My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains and Sun Zoom Spark, you can’t really expect to attract mass appeal.
The other released album included here is The Spotlight Kid (also issued in 1972, six months prior to Clear Spot). This is the lesser of the three albums herein but only because it is not as consistently inventive or thematically unified (or as funny!). The highlights though are fabulous, such as the harp-heavy, blues-wailing Grow Fins, and the title track, with its field-hollerin’ vocal and simple and repetitive blues riff.
The CD of unreleased material is an intriguing mix of a few alternate takes, rehearsal run-throughs and demos of sides that would not appear on released recordings until his fabulous trio of albums in the late 1970s (Shiny Beast, Doc At Radar Station and Ice Cream For Crow). Glorious and fascinating stuff. And a must for committed fans.
For such a marvellous set, I do however some minor quibbles. The first is that the set is attributed just to Captain Beefheart; the splendid Magic Band that turned his artistic vision into actual music get short-changed here in the recognition stakes. The other quibble is more pressing - this set is said to be a limited edition. How limited I can’t say but presumably it could sell out at any time. If you have any interest (and you surely should have), get your order for this in now. As the Captain himself advises, ‘If you beat around the bush, you're gonna lose your push’.
Review Date: January 2015