Captain Beefheart, Doc At The Radar Station

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Doc At The Radar Station

Captain Beefheart
A harsh, hard flurry of fury and hope and everything in between

This 1980 set was the Captain's next-to-last before he left the music biz, and it's his final certifiable masterpiece — a harsh, hard flurry of fury and hope and everything in between. Working with a youngish band, including two guitarists who grew up on his music, Beefheart offers some of his most challenging songs ever — possibly even his "Best Batch Yet" (which happens to be the name of one). The band is more than up to his abruptly-changing rhythms, melodic sleight-of-hand, dabblings in mellotron, charged blasts of soprano sax, bass clarinet and harp, and vocals that are more wild-sounding, yet somehow also measured, than he'd been for years. They grind through the stunning lyric of "Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Back," capturing the feel of the classic Howlin' Wolf band better than anyone before or since, establish a freight-train momentum on "Hot Head," drive the Captain's pain home on "Ashtray Heart." Gary Lucas's tensile guitar solo "Flavor Bud Living" sounds impossible for one man to play alone, and yet there he is doing it. One for the ages.