Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gamma Ray

Song: Gamma Ray
Artist: Beck
Album: Modern Guilt

If I am totally honest with you, I should mention that I approach every new Beck record in really one way… absolute excitement. Despite his shifts in style and tone from album to album I can officially say that not one of his records has disappointed me. I can usually find something to like in every one of his records and for many of them, they just are some of my favorite records of all time. I think he is, and has always been, equal parts innovator, fun, goofy, introspective, and mysterious.

Today marks the release of his new album “Modern Guilt” which on the surface seems to be his attempt at 60’s style psychedelia. A mix of Nuggets-era rock and well… Beck. It’s important to note that while Beck has changes styles from album to album they all in effect sound like non-other than just Beck. I think, given another decade or two, that Beck will be considered one of the most import singer-songwriters in rock history. But hey, I’m a fan.

Depending on how you count, “Modern Guilt” is either Beck’s 8th, 10th, or 12th album. (If you count his indie records, and if you count the ones that are still in print, etc.) I think that officially it should be considered his 10th and because of this, and my outrageous fandom… I thought I’d write up a little bit about all of his records thus far…

Stereopathetic Soulmanure
His first release on an indie, a wild mix of acoustic jams, hip-hop, crazy noises, and samples from all over the place. It’s sort of like Beck’s idea of a mix-tape… except he wrote all the songs. My guess is that he was trying to create a record to get high to and nothing more. Except there are some cool songs on there, including the sweet acoustic “Rowboat” (which was later covered by Johnny Cash) and jokey but fun tracks “Satan Gave me a Taco” and “Puttin It Down.”

Mellow Gold
The record that introduced Beck to the world, including blow-up single “Loser” and less successful (but totally great) “Beercan.” The album comes across as a more serious take on “Stereopathetic’s” out-there mix-match style. But really, there is nothing serious about it. I remember listening to this pretty much non-stop for a good two years. Though aside from” Loser,” I rarely play it anymore.

One Foot in the Grave
For his third (yes… THIRD!) album of 1994 Beck went indie again for this “anti-folk” record. This was the first hint that Beck was more than a stoner “slacker” who specialized in off-the-wall sound collages. While lyrically it maintained some of his goofy and sometimes free-association words, there were hints at darker things on the horizon. “I Get Lonesome” is a dirge-like favorite, as well as “Cyanide Breath Mint” and “Asshole,” which was covered by Tom Petty for his soundtrack to “She’s the One.” In a way, while these albums didn’t come close to the sales of “Mellow Gold,” it helped create a buzz around the guy, more so than just the stellar major-label debut.

Maybe it was because people thought of him as a one hit wonder, or the fact that it built upon what he had done before to create a modern classic, but his major-label follow up to “Mellow Gold,” “Odelay” pretty much sent Beck into the stratosphere. Not only did it have a string of actual hit songs, “Where it’s At,” “Devil’s Haircut,” and “New Pollution,” but in a way it re-defined pop music in the 90’s. Almost every musical genre is touched upon and it began the start of Beck finding smart producers (The Dust Brothers of “Paul’s Boutique” fame) that help him lift his musical ambitions. I wore this out at the time, and many consider it his best… I frankly haven’t listened to it in a while.

Beck’s first curve ball (if you didn’t pay attention to his indie releases, or the onslaught of b-sides released on singles) a folk-blues record that sounded nothing like “Gold” or “Odelay” yet remained completely Beck. I remembered feeling so-so about this record at the time of release but it soon grabbed me, solidifying my love for the man. He can do anything!

Midnight Vultures
This album was an audience divider. Some raved about the Prince 80’s inspired set of jams and others thought he’d just gone too far. I was with the latter at first, but then slowly understood its brilliance. It’s a big dumb party record, a pitch-perfect recreation of a lot of 80’s R & B, or a one-joke record… all in one. I can see why people hate it, and I know why I love it.

Sea Change
Like “Mutations” before it, Beck slowed things down and went more folk based with this record. In my mind it solidified any questions about his songwriting ability, and acted as a response to any negative feedback from “Midnight Vultures.” Despite “Mutations,” whos songs were still a bit jokey, “Sea Change” debuted Beck as the serious artist. It’s a heartbreaking break-up record, and probably his most critically adored. (Well… along with “Odelay.”)

I think it’s his best. Many argued that he was just re-doing all things Beck over again, which is easy to say about someone whom has basically re-invented themselves with ever record. Yes he returned to the stylings of “Odelay” (along with its producers the Dust Brothers) but listening to that record and “Guero” side to side show where he’s come as a songwriter. There is bubbling mystery and dread that started for “Sea Change” but they’re married with sunny Beck jams. While you might bop along to “Girl” because it’s one of his sunniest fun pop songs, it’s about a guy killing a girl. And Beck sings as the guy. It’s such a killer record and one that I have not stopped listening to since its release. If you only own one Beck record, this should be it.

The Information
After going gaga for “Guero,” I suppose I couldn’t help but be let down by “The Information,” Beck’s speedy follow up. I recently re-listened to the full album and realized I liked it better than I remembered. It’s too long, and all over the place, but what it lacks in focus it gains in tunes. “Think I’m in Love” is a straight up classic… and SO Beck, “Strange Apparition,” “Nausea,” “We Dance Alone,” and the title track are highlights. What it sounds like is a great B-Sides collection, it just doesn’t say one thing… which Beck hadn’t really done since… well his first two records.

Modern Guilt
I’ve been listening to Beck’s latest pretty much on repeat since I got it late Sunday. Initially, right off the bat, I loved it. Beck gets with Producer of the moment Danger Mouse to craft a swirling 60’s Psychedelic rock record that fits in our times of mass fear, confusion, and uncertainty. At just over thirty minutes he clears the problems he had with the overloaded “The Information,” and mixes his (and DM’s) ear for a killer groove and new lyrical weight. “Gamma Ray” is a groovy Bond-ish number that go-go’s on about seriously bad weather. The title track is as well a highlight.

If “Guero” and “the Information” were a return to the sound collage style that made him a house-hold name, “Guilt” is his return making a single concept record… yet it’s obtuse, strange, a bit scary, and surprisingly upbeat. Thus far the only misstep I find is the drum and bass rerun “Replica” that is more annoying than… well anything else. If we learn anything from “Modern Guilt” it’s that Beck is going to continue surprising us and making some of the best modern music around. At this point he’s carved out a place in rock history for himself being nothing but himself.


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