In 1969, Frank Zappa made his old friend Don van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) an offer: he would let the Captain record a full double-album of his special brand of "avant-garde bluesrock" (I wouldn't know what else to call it), which Zappa would then produce. Moreover, he promised him complete creative control. Of course Beefheart agreed and the result of this collaboration remains one of the greatest masterpieces in "popular music" ever, in comparison to which even Zappa's best albums pale. I put "popular music" in quotation marks, because "Trout Mask Replica" not only incorporates snippets of free jazz, but in general is so artistic and inaccessible that it will be difficult for many people to call it that. It is one of those works that really need to be heard to be believed.
A truly legendary album, "Trout Mask Replica" has always been surrounded by myths, the most notable of which is the rumour that Captain Beefheart, being in another room than the rest of the band during the recording sessions, refused to wear headphones - which would have meant that he could barely hear what the others were playing. This story will probably sound very true to people who have been exposed to "Trout Mask Replica" for the first time, because the music, and especially the interaction between the instruments and vocals, is very likely to strike them as chaotic. I don't know if the myth is true or not, but repeated listening will reveal that the assumption that the album is complete chaos is definitely not true. Apart from some woodwind improvisation here and there, the parts were all composed and rehearsed thoroughly. And, after a few spins, you will even discover parts that you might describe as "catchy". People who are familiar with other albums of the Captain will know this. What you hear is not chaos; it is meant to sound like this.
But does all of this really matter? Not for me it doesn't! I couldn't care less whether this stuff was composed or improvised. The point is that it sounds the way it does, and it sounds great! Although it might take even the most experienced listener a long while to "get" this album, if you are open-minded and prepared for a difficult ride, the reward will be enormous. The combination of the weird music, the surrealist lyrics and the fantastic picture on the cover make "Trout Mask Replica" a genius work of art if there ever was one. It still manages to shock, move, delight and inspire me every time I hear it. But, and I can't stress this enough, it is certainly not for everyone. A brave album for brave listeners!