Sunday, July 26, 2020

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Unconditionally Guaranteed

The Captain and the Magic Band was pretty discouraged by this time. Beefheart was always disappointed that his more "out there" music was not appreciated as he thought it should and the band was - quite understandably - disappointed that they were existing on starvation wages. This record was unabashedly made in the hopes of "cashing in" and "making it" but not only did it fail in that goal, but it alienated a good number of his fans, as well. Some people now look back on this album more kindly, but it was the last hurrah (for the time being) for the Magic Band and a bit inauspicious one, at that.

While the opening "Upon the My-O-My" starts out like a mix of the old Magic Band and Frank Zappa, it's a bit smoother than what you would expect from either - heck, there's even a flute solo! It's certainly a lot more "normal" than any previous Beefheart tracks - basic verse/chorus/solo structures and everything! While "Sugar Bowl" has some nice slide work, it's basically a simple pop tune and "New Electric Ride" is another fairly uninteresting number although again it has some good slide guitar. The ballad "Magic Be" sounds like it could have come from just about any second rate 70's band's album, as a filler/throw-away - nothing about it really stands out, and the same goes for the uninspired "Happy Love Song", complete with a 70's horn section.

"Full Moon Hot Sun" is at least a bit more upbeat, with a Bo Diddley-esque rhythm, some of Vlient's harmonica work and a bit of interesting guitar hooks. For "I Got Love On My Mind" the group just kinda jams on an elementary four chord descending riff that is lifted by fuzzed-out guitar, while in "This is the Day" they create yet another unobtrusive ballad with synth "strings" and lightweight electric piano, and "Lazy Music" does just sound lazy but at least for the closer, "Peaches", they amp up the energy a bit, even if the song is nothing all that extraordinary.

Everything about this album is strange, considering who recorded it, and it sounds like they had just given up by this time. Beefheart's vocals are a lot more controlled throughout and not nearly as extreme, and even the lyrics are pretty tame and fairly uninteresting. I'm not really sure how they thought that they would break through with a record that was tame and uninspired but instead it simply meant the end of the group. At least after they got this and Moonbeams and Bluejeans out of their system the Captain came back with a version of the Magic Band for Shiny Beast and Doc at the Radar Station, a couple of their best, before he retired with Ice Cream For Crow.