Re-mastered edition of 1972 classic album from Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band
Those quick off the mark when bagging a copy of the limited edition Sun Zoom Spark box set issued at the end of 2014 can skip this bit as you are clearly a convert to the Don Van Vliet genius and already have in your possession a rare treasure. Now deleted as a CD box set, and unlikely to be re-pressed (the rather expensive 4LP edition is still available, while stocks last), the three re-mastered original albums included in Sun Zoom Spark have however now been re-issued on separate CDs.
When we reviewed the box set on release, I advised that two of these three early 1970s album did (and still do) feature in my half-formed mental list of ten favourite albums of all time. Clear Spot is one of these, the other being Lick My Decals Off Baby - an absolute beaut of an album but featuring Beefheart and the Magic Band at their most avant garde, unconventional and challenging. Highly recommended as Decals is, it is not for the faint-hearted; toe-tapping, easy listening entertainment it ain’t!
Clear Spot however is a much easier and gentler introduction. Arising out of a desire for a better commercial response to his work, it was specifically recorded to tone down his avant garde tendencies and play up his identifiable rock, blues, soul and R&B influences. It even had a respected producer on the team (Ted Templeman) to aid professional discipline.
And, it all works magnificently from start to finish. On Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man (To Make Him Know She’s There) and Long Neck Bottles, the Captain leads the band through some highly impressive blues rock workouts that are in turns both musically thrilling and lyrically laugh-out loud funny. For My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains, the band reconfigure themselves into a lounge band while Beefheart breaks your heart with a highly affecting ballad, a feat repeated a little later with Don’s ode to his wife, Jan, entitled Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles. Then, on Too Much Time, the band is augmented by some lovely horn charts and female backing singers to create a rather splendid soulful R&B confection.
Even on such a beautifully controlled and balanced album, the Captain's unique and maverick musical persona can't be fully kept in check completely. Big Eyed Beans From Venus is a manically inventive four and half minute delight and Sun Zoom Spark is as enjoyable a bit of musical nonsense as you can hope to find.
So, if you have yet to experience the thrills offered by Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band, this is the recommended album to start with. The songs are varied but uniform in their excellence, the newly re-mastered sound is rather splendid, the band is superb throughout (a big hand for Zoot Horn Rollo's slide guitar) and the Captain's singing and harmonica playing are untouchable.
Review Date: October 2015