Although Don Van Vliet died almost a year ago, his music career (as Captain Beefheart) ended in the early eighties. It’s always pleased me that with his last three albums – Shiny Beast, Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream For Crow – he had the good sense to finish on an incredible high.
Dirty Blue Gene (from 1980’s Doc at The Radar Station) has always been one of my favourites. I like that it contains all the stuff that makes his work supposedly so unapproachable – the tricky playing and the impenetrable lyrics – at the same time as being glossy and clean enough to be entirely listenable. It sounds like a pop version of something off Trout Mask Replica.
The most thrilling thing about the song is those frenetic guitars that both fight and complement each other as they attack and retreat and stop and start. Rhythmically, it’s very funky and almost (were it not for the unexpected breaks) danceable. And riding the clamour we get the Captain delivering some of his best lyrics through that Howlin’ Wolfish voice: “She’s not bad, she’s just genetically mean,” “Old women sweat, young girls glisten”, “She’s swinging a sponge on the end of a swing” etc.
In Dirty Blue Gene you can hear everything that influenced all those great early eighties UK indie groups, including The Fall and less enduring bands like Bogshed, A Witness and Stump.
If you’ve got ears, you gotta listen: