Sunday, May 1, 2016

BECK!

When it comes to Beck's 1994 major label debut, you could easily release Beck's Mellow Gold today as brand new and it would still maintain the relevance that it did in '94. Even by today's standards Beck managed to turn the familiar on its head. In Mellow Gold you can hear the future of his music, a foreshadowing of Sea Change and Modern Guilt still in its infancy. The easiest going Beck track on the record, "Beercan" is a hidden slacker hip-hop classic with rhymes about doing nothing and not wanting to care about anything, and that about sums it up. He has an eagle eye for picking out choice bass lines to go with his comically twisted metaphors that confuse as much as they philosophize. It's those metaphors that are never as obvious, and yet are so right once you pick through them, that have defined his style even further. As Beck warns on "Loser," "Time is a piece of wax fallin' on a termite that's choking on the splinter;" yes indeed, time's curse may be crushing us all while the things that help us thrive slowly kill us (oh how relevant that still is), but no one else could say it as eloquently as he did.

Beck, 1995
Aside from the catchy slacker jams, his best work on the record is compellingly personal. A downer of a song, "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997" reverberates with Beck’s isolated melancholy as one of his modern blues tracks. Even more poetic, "Steal My Body Home" gets existential with a circulating sitar creating a very ethereal atmosphere. “Blackhole” carries the same cerebral effect, its slide guitar making it anthemic in those building moments as it weaves from old blues to alt rock ballad. It’s those tracks that re-connect the listener in a way that almost replaces the original reason you loved it, giving it a new light much brighter/darker than "Loser."

Another groovy, high-energy sound collage by the master of true alternative rock. Beck seems constantly restless as he wanders through several genres, including the spazzed-out funk of Odelay’s radio hits: "Devil's Haircut,""The New Pollution" and the great mock-country, quasi-jazz, quasi hip-hop classic "Where It's At." The heavy East Indian-esque jamboree of "Derelict" rides along perfectly with the trip-hop of "High 5" and the twisted blend of bluegrass and folk in "Lord Only Knows" and "Readymade." "Novacane" is a little too jarring for me, but overall it fits in perfectly to another of Beck's wonderfully unique tributes to American music. One of those albums that define what the musical landscape was in the 1990's. The lyrics of course are totally random snippets of bizarre imagery that I'm sure Beck himself has little understanding of, at total random I picked the opening lines from "Hotwax" :

It takes a backwash man to sing a backwash song
Like a frying pan when the fire's gone
Driving my pig while the bear's taking pictures in the grass
In my radio smashed
And I like pianos in the evening sun
Dragging my heals 'til my day is done
Saturday night in the Captain's clothes
Tin horns blowing with my jury 'phros.

Oh, well, it's the medium of Odelay that resonates, not the message. It's a fun album (with one great cover) that can shake your ass and move your head. An album that has come to define a musician who tries his hardest not to be easily defined.