June 25, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it an A-

A blues-obsessed desert rat, Captain Beefheart reimagined rock in the late ’60s by breaking down its architecture and using its raw materials to fashion a loopy new paradigm. At its peak, the band percolated with spastic free-jazz rhythms, chicken-scratch guitars, and Beefheart spewing his dada-esque lyrical imagery through a baleful growl. The five-CD Grow Fins: Rarities (1965-1982), which is chockablock with old demos, live performances, radio spots, and rare live footage, is a fan’s wet dream, but neophytes may want to seek out the reissues. Safe as Milk, the Magic Band’s 1967 debut, is a furious amalgam of garage punk and faux-Delta weirdness; The Mirror Man Sessions finds the band convincingly moving into cubist abstraction. Taken together, all three collections track the fascinating progress of a great musical maverick at work.
Grow Fins: A-
Safe as Milk: A-
Mirror Man: B+

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