Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beck- Mellow Gold (1994): 92%

Who among you reading this review, would be willing to compare Beck to Bob Dylan? While Beck is anti-folk, he is more or less the “three-decades-too-late doppelganger” to Bob Dylan. After all, they both did have about the same musical prowess when they were in their early 20’s.
There is a lot to be said about it though. Just like Bob Dylan arrived exactly at the right place in exactly the right time in the early 60’s, Beck inadvertently did the same in the 90’s. “Loser” became a hit on the radio right around the time of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, thus making Beck one of those musicians who were picking up where Nirvana left off in the alternative scene. Also consider the coincidence of Beck signing to DGC, Nirvana’s label.

But is it accurate to call it alternative? Consider the year of this release, 1994. In February, Stereopathetic Soulmanure was released on Flip, an indie label (and no, not Limp Bizkit’s label when they were signed with Interscope) that featured eclectic and experimental tastes done with primitive equipment. A week later, Mellow Gold was released. Then finally, another indie release called One Foot in the Grave in June which is in the same vein as Stereopathetic Soulmanure, but instead Beck channels Bob Dylan so clearly he emulates without plagiarizing. As he smiles sardonically on “Pay No Mind (Snoozer),” (among other tracks on this album) you can’t help but laugh along with him, “Give the finger to the rock and roll singer/ as he dances upon your paycheck/ the sales climb high through the mountain pale sky/ like a giant dildo crushing the sun.” No, out of respect and for the sake of the album, we will not call it alternative, and upon reading the track listing, you should be able to tell why. Titles like, “Fuckin’ with My Head (Mountain Dew Rock),” “Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat),” “Mutherfuker,” “Steal My Body Home,” or ”Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997” Perhaps Beck is anti-alternative too.

In all the music Beck made in 1994, intentionally or not, he seemed to have put all of the worthwhile material on Mellow Gold. Even its name has a smirk of wry honesty. Either way, Mellow Gold measures up to a lot, and it provided a solid exposition to Beck’s career on a major label. This is essentially his more accessible roots before he learned a thing or two from the Dust Brothers on the follow-up, Odelay!.

And what an underappreciated album it is. While it gained praise of critics across the board, why was its impact so silent? Sure, “Loser” played on radio and MTV, but seriously, where are the proper accolades for this album? Rolling Stone may haven given it five stars in a retrospective review, but why did they sort of brush it under the rug and never mentioned it again? I’ll admit, I was slightly nervous when I hit play and let Beck provide good background noise for my video game. Since “Loser” is the first track, I knew the real adventure would be in the tracks to come. Then “Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” came on; just as cool as “Loser.” With each passing track, I expected at least one of them to not be as memorable. I reached the end of the album dumbfounded by its unconventional accessibility (if there is such thing), and not because I was taken aback by the random computer noise that sneaks up about a minute after the capper “Blackhole.”

It was just pure talent; the ability to know exactly what chord should be next and when. Sometimes it’s hip-hop, sometimes it’s country, sometimes it’s drone, and only rarely is it alternative. Other than “Loser,” it’s Beck’s way or no way.  

Clearly, this album is 80 different kinds of idiosyncratic confessions of a self-proclaimed loser folk singer who never leaves the company of his acoustic guitar. Along with the other assortment of instruments he can play, he blends in so many to fit the need of the song. Even better, his lyrics contain the kind of irony that Alanis Morrisette was hoping to achieve on Jagged Little Pill. Only, they’re all over the album. Except in “Blackhole,” which seem to harken back fond childhood memories. “Soul Suckin’ Jerk” sounds like more life experiences from Beck’s life as a slave driven minimum wage worker. “Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat),” begins with a crude tape recording of what sounds like his truckdrivin’ neighbors downstairs having an argument:

“You’re a drunk!”

“Yeah, I’m the fuckin’ drunk, but you’re a lousy low-life who can’t do nothin’ for himself!”

Then Beck starts in with a wayward sounding scale, sounding like a scowl. I can almost see Beck choking the neck of his guitar during the chorus as he growls through grinding teeth.

Which brings me to my next point: why is this the only Beck album with profanity? Are his other works too good for it? By cursing, Beck almost feels sort of a pressured to go out and try to shock people with another gimmick. While the music can stand on its own, it’s ultimately Beck’s choice of words that will determine if the music is worth listening to. Does it make you feel clean or dirty by the end? Pleased, or embarrassed? At 47 minutes with 13 songs, you can guarantee it’ll be worth it in one way or another.  All the songs are well-paced, well-placed, and well-played. I still don’t know why Beck hasn’t received more well-known acknowledgement for this one than an album like Odelay! To me, they are kind of the same, but with one difference: roots with ingenuity.

Lyrics: 9/10
Meaning: 8/10
Significance: 9/10
Music: 10/10
Overall Impression: 9/10

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