Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band - Strictly Personal
Following on from his debut album, Safe As Milk, Captain Beefheart entered the studio to record what was to be its official follow-up It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper. That album was never to be officially released, however, albeit later finding some form as Mirror Man/The Mirror Man Sessions but a few of the songs were reworked and put aside for this album, which, whilst notorious amongst Beefheart fans, is actually the perfect bridge between the twisted blues of Safe As Milk and the out-there rock/blues/jazz of Trout Mask Replica.
Beefheart fans have criticised Strictly Personal since its release but not, as you might think, for the quality of its songs. Instead, when Beefheart and The Magic Band were in Europe promoting Safe As Milk, their manager and producer of this album, Bob Krasnow, remixed Strictly Personal prior to its release and added various sound effects to give it a sound more contemporary than Beefheart had otherwise offered. Therefore, when Strictly Personal was eventually released, Beefheart's gruff and impatient twisting of strands of late-sixties rock and blues was given a new and thoroughly unnecessary psychedelic production courtesy of some all-too-obvious flanging, time delays and out-of-phase stereo panning.
Unsurprisingly, Beefheart fans were initially shocked to hear how these effects had rendered the Captain as simply another psychedelic-rock also-ran - leading to years during which this album was all but disowned - but to continue to label it as such is to do Strictly Personal a disservice. Whilst the occasional use of flanging does the album few favours, these effects are certainly not as intrusive as Strictly Personal's reputation would have you believe and if a few of the songs on this album reappear elsewhere, to have them in one place does summarise the musical changes going on within the Magic Band that would eventually lead to Trout Mask Replica.
The album opens with Ah Feel Like Ahcid, which it is often erroneously said to be not about LSD but Beefheart's lyrics about licking a stamp and sticking it under his tongue make it perfectly clear that the song is but one more example of late-sixties acid-rock albeit one that rumbles through an old-blues description of a woman at odds with the psychedelia elsewhere. Safe As Milk was a song leftover from the sessions that produced the album of the same name but following a heavily phased intro, one of the album's highlights, Trust Us, rips into life. As much as there is a fair amount of criticism of this phasing, it does actually work well in this case with the space offered by the effects of the first few bars setting up the musical space within the verses. These effects then make a reappearance on Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man, which is a drastically shortened version of the title track from The Mirror Man Sessions and even in this form is likely to be the highlight of Strictly Personal whilst On Tomorrow is a mean, low blues.
The song most likely to stand out on a first or any further listen is Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin Stones, in which Beefheart throws in rips and plays from Strawberry Fields Forever against a slide blues song with a strolling rhythm. As the album winds down and before Kandy Korn, which is the same track that appears on The Mirror Man Sessions, Gimme Dat Harp Boy is probably the most conventional track here, being a straight but fairly rough blues track, based on Willie Dixon's Spoonful, over which the Captain barks his lyrics.
Despite this being criticised so widely, Strictly Personal is much better than its reputation would suggest but, best of all, when listening to Beefheart's albums in chronological order, it does a good job of preparing the way for Trout Mask Replica, which, as those familiar with that album will know, was necessary had you come cold from Safe As Milk.