Album review: CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND – Somewhere Over Detroit


Gonzo Multimedia [Release Date 23.05.14]

Given the atrocious sound quality of this album and the apparent jumble of material ‘Somewhere Over Detroit’ is for completists only.

Recorded in December 1980, this concert was part of Beefheart’s comeback, as he reverted to his dense, early career avant garde music, with some oblique poetry and dissonant horn on the side.

Indeed it’s the latter that opens the album and receives a huge ovation from a wild crowd, who sound almost relieved that the good Captain is back to his pre- commercial ‘Unconditionally Guaranteed’ days.

Indeed he is, as by 1980 he’d just cut the impressive ‘Doc at the Radar Station’ and had started a slow but gradual return to form, starting with the delayed 1976  ‘Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)’ album – the title track of which was reputedly based upon the rhythm of the wind shield wipers on Beefheart’s Volvo car!

‘Bat Chain Puller’ is just about discernible here, if only because of his trademark primal growl and the insistent lyrical chant. ‘Somewhere Over Detroit’ leans heavily on the ‘Doc’ album, (6 tracks are featured)   and fleetingly revisits 3 tracks from ‘Trout Mask Replica’, including his poetic rap The Dust Blows Forward n’ The Dust Blows Back’  as well as early favourites such a ‘Safe As Milk’, ‘Abba Zabba’ and ‘Kandy Korn’ (at least that’s what it says on the track listing!).

But there’s not a complete purge of his mid-career material, as he includes a brace from the excellent ‘Clear Spot’ album, including the closing magnificent ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus.’

The highlights such as they are, include  ‘Hot Head’ complete with  Beefheart’s primal scream soaring above the general rumble, and the staccato rhythms of ‘Ashtray Heart’ which is just about also discernible.

Disappointingly both ‘Doctor Dark’ from “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” and ‘Bat Chain’s ‘Suction Prints’ are barely more than a shapeless cacophony. 9 of the 19 tracks here are also available on similarly posthumously released ‘Ashtray Heart’ which surely can’t have a worse third generational sound mix than this.

The lo-fi nature of the project as a whole is summarised on the closing Big Eyed Beans From Venus’, when the captain shouts out: “Jeff Morris Tepper hit that long lunar note and let it float”. If only we could hear it!  **

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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