A different kettle of fish to Trout Mask Replica's avant-glory days, Unconditionally Guaranteed, (1974) alienated many die-hard fans with its unashamedly commercial overtones. Nevertheless "On The My-O- My" and "Full Moon, Hot Sun" retain the expected grit and gravel beloved of the Beefheart thrum.
Following the mass defection of his regular band, Beefheart toured with a hastily convened pick-up group. Previously unreleased, Live In Drury Lane '74, shows Don and his so-called Tragic Band were actually anything but. With "Bluejeans And Moonbeams" (also 1974), Van Vliet's voice has never been recorded as sympathetically, revealing him to be a consummate balladeer. Don't believe the received wisdom; it's isn't half as bad as they reckon.
Lacking the extraneous filler that mars the later recordings, the strangulated Yosemite-Sam-on-helium vocals of 1980's Zappa-infected Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), is a joyful collision of odd-metered out-thereness. Though the wordplay might be more inclined to arch than acerbic, combined with the high-flying marimba, trombone and rattling slide guitar combo, it's still more than capable of putting hairs on your chest and probably represents his last truly great moment as a recording artist.
Notwithstanding momentary flashes of agitated brilliance, Doc At The Radar Station (1980) and Ice Cream For Crow (1982) stumble alarmingly into self-parody. Past his best, they vindicate Van Vliet's instinct to become a full-time painter.
This admirable reissue series, with its crisp sound and Mike Barnes' excellent fact-packed sleevenotes decoding the Beefheart mythos, is only let down by its cursory design and packaging.