I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
I miss old Beck. Pre-Scientologist, pre-middle-aged Beck. He was cool.
I mean, Beck’s still OK – he’s still one of the quirkiest artists out there, but my interest level has certainly waned. Unfortunately, his records are much more streamlined than his earlier releases, which were stylistically all over the place. I started listening to Beck because of this wild mix in the first place: he took a bunch of disparate styles, blended them, and came up with something completely unique. This was before the melodramatic troubadour excursions or the synth-pop 1980s throwbacks. Before he became less fun. On Mutations Beck laments that “it’s nobody’s fault but [his] own,” some sort of sad-sack meditation on regret. Think he regrets anything in “Beercan”? No way – he’s so far beyond normal human feelings that he borders on superhuman. People, he’s “got something better than love.” And he boasts this while drinking himself into a stupor after quitting his job blowing leaves.
And that ain’t no played-out, new jack horsecrap.
“Beercan” is a Mellow Gold highlight, all weird funk and screwed blues, stoner poetry, and wacky sound effects and samples – the famous “I’m sad, and unhappy” line comes from a freaking CARE BEARS album! And of course no 1990s hip hop song was complete without a Melvins sample, right? Of course not. So there’s one here. And Buzz Osbourne appears in the video.*
Backing this oddball party anthem is a very Hayden-esque take on “Pay No Mind,” here titled “Got No Mind,” complete with different instrumentation and altered lyrics, but the gist and especially the chorus are similar enough to link the two beyond the titles. Ween makes a guest appearance on “Asskiss Powergrudge (Payback ’94)” … oh, no, that’s still Beck doing a guttural take on weird revenge, minimal folk style. It sounds like you’d be able to find it on an early Ween album. “Totally Confused” is another minimal folk number that wouldn’t seem out of place on One Foot in the Grave, Beck’s K Records release, also from 1994. The serrated punk of “Spanking Room” is very similar to the noise explosion of “Mutherfuker,” although the latter is much more accessible. Still, “Spanking Room” has that offbeat charm that channels whatever noise music influenced Beck, giving the alt-folkie a bizarre and unpredictable nature.
This is my kind of Beck – the Beck that would surprise you constantly, shake your preconceptions from you, and release consistently yet accessibly weird and off-kilter genre exercises. You never knew what he’d sound like from one song to the next, let alone what direction he’d choose from album to album. Unfortunately, now you do.
*Thanks to Beck fansite Whiskeyclone.net for the information about “Beercan.” Accessed 5/2/11.
RIYL: Hayden, Ween, Hair Police