Captain Beefheart: Sun Zoom Spark – 1970 To 1972

Must-have four-disc box covering Don Van Vliet’s peak years.

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Even among his most trenchant supporters, Captain Beefheart divides opinion: are you Safe As Milk (wild, accessible) or Trout Mask Replica (wild, impenetrable)?

The ideal compromise is 1970’s stunning Lick My Decals Off, Baby, which married his surreal brand of post-Delta blues to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman. Bursting with Beefheartian oddness like I Love You, You Big Dummy and Japan In A Dishpan, said album’s the first of three remasters that make up the bulk of this essential reissue. 1972’s The Spotlight Kid saw him reining in his more outré impulses on a downbeat set designed to give people “something to hang their hat on”. As such it’s only partly successful, but the same year’s Clear Spot is a pure blast, from the gruff boogaloo of Big Eyed Beans From Venus to the relative subtlety of Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles. Aficionados should head straight to disc four: 14 unissued outtakes from the same era. Of particular interest are prototype versions of late-period gems like Dirty Blue Gene and The Witch Doctor Life.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.