Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 789: Beck

I’ve just finished another long day in a week where I expect a lot more of the same. I always make time for music, though!

Disc 789 is….Odelay
Artist: Beck

Year of Release: 1996

What’s up with the Cover? A dog agility competition. Why, I have no idea. This is one of those dogs that looks a lot like a mop. Sometimes when I see dog breeds I want to go back a couple hundred years and find the people who started doing it and ask them, “what the hell were you thinking?” Seeing this mop dog was definitely one of those times.

How I Came To Know It: I don’t remember. I knew Beck through my old room-mate Greg but I don’t think I bought “Odelay” until a couple years after it came out. I am an avowed Beck fan now, and buy whatever he releases right away.

How It Stacks Up: I have nine Beck albums. Of those, I’m going to put “Odelay” pretty far down the list. I’ll say seventh, bumping “The Information” (reviewed way back at Disc 150) down to eighth spot.

Ratings: 3 stars

“Odelay” was a critical darling and remains so to this day, so I’m going to say something fairly heretical and call it good, but not great. This is a record filled with all of Beck’s mad genius, but it would succeed better with a bit of restraint.

No one can take a group of disparate sounds and turn them into something funky and listenable like Beck, and “Odelay” is his first full foray into pushing his own limits. Critics loved the novelty of the album, and even almost twenty years later, “Odelay” still sounds as innovative as anything you’ll hear today.

“Odelay” features all the regular rock instruments, throws in horns and pianos, fuzzy feedback, beeps, bloops and bings and somehow turns it all into music.

When it hits on all cylinders – as it does on “”Where It’s At” it is pure genius. This song has a soulful organ riff right out of Motown, mixed with Beck’s deadpan rap-style, hand-claps, squawk box, robot voices and samples (mostly of himself). The whole thing creates a collage of sound that is irresistible to both your lower spine and your frontal lobes. Even the interludes of jazz horn fits perfectly. The weirdly self-referential sample of someone saying “that was a good drum break” is so perfect that I can’t imagine a version of the song where someone didn’t interject with a random opinion about the drum break right at that moment.

Regrettably, the album is also packed with songs that are so close to genius, but that Beck feels the need to deconstruct or otherwise wreck in the final minute.

Novacane” is an amazing concoction of Motown groove and Beastie Boy-style rap and scratch fury. I want so bad to love this song, and for the most part I do. But then three-quarters of the way through Beck decides to destroy his own creation, replacing the beauty of the song with shrieking feedback, and then some computer noises that sound like an annoying nineties modem.

High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” gets its modem on even sooner, starting halfway through. After a while it returns to being what I would call “a song” but alas, it was now too late for me to give a damn. Note to the artist: that modem screech isn’t the sound of you making a connection with me, it’s the sound of you losing one.

Sissyneck” does a similar trick in the middle of the song, but fortunately it is kept to a couple of seconds and kind of works. “Jack-Ass” is a stripped down song that is slow and easy until Beck decides to end it all with five seconds worth of a donkey braying. “Hotwax” ends with some dungeon master type character introducing himself as “the enchanting wizard of rhythm”. Everywhere I turn there are amazing songs being despoiled with one extra bit of clever they don’t need.

The record ends with a beautiful, if slightly meandering track, called “Ramshackle” which is a bit too long, but still very pretty. It properly ends at 4:40 or so, but then there’s an extra two minutes of silence, followed by another minute full of beeps and whirrs. Of course there is.

And yet this album is so full of long moments of genius – including on all those songs I just complained about – that you can’t help but like it overall. Those moments easily earn the three stars, but all the modem sounds and the creative winky-faces mar enough tracks that I can’t rate it any higher than that.

Best tracks:  Devil’s Haircut, Where It’s At, Sissyneck,

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