Captain Beefheart – Unconditionally Guaranteed

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The most reviled album of Captain Beefheart’s entire career, 1974’s ironically titled Unconditionally Guaranteed unfortunately largely deserves its negative reputation. Recorded in the U.K. as the first album of Captain Beefheart’s contract with Virgin Records, it’s also the last album that features any members of the Trout Mask Replica-era band, notably guitarists Zoot Horn Rollo and Alex St. Clair, plus former Mothers of Invention percussionist Art Tripp. Rather like Van Morrison’s later album, A Period of Transition, Unconditionally Guaranteed is clearly a deliberate attempt by the Captain to restrain his more peculiar tendencies in search of a wider audience. As might be expected, the wider audience didn’t show up, and his longtime fans were put off by the album’s more commercial facets. It’s not an entirely useless album, as the tunes do have some of the blues-rock punch that’s at the root of Beefheart’s work, and the lyrics, mostly declarations of love for his wife, Jan Van Vliet, who receives co-writing credit with producer Andy DiMartino on all ten tracks, seem heartfelt enough. The problem is that DiMartino’s production and arrangements are flaccid and dull, and Beefheart (purposely) sings as if he’s half asleep throughout. Even Captain Beefheart himself disowns this record.

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