Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wayback Whensday:
Don't Tell Anyone You Don't Own...

It's May of 1994. Kurt Cobian was only a month deceased. I'm in the Microfisch lab of my Junior High School library (1) researching for the year's final history paper, which, knowing me, was probably due the next day. My topic was the history of Rock & Roll, yet all I could bother to research was Kurt Cobain. You'll have to forgive me, after all, the man had only recently died, and Nirvana was one of my favorite bands at the time. As I was researching, I came across a magazine article - from what magazine I cannot remember anymore - that more or less named Beck as the Grunge poster boy now that Kurt had passed, pointing out how his hit song "Loser" had become an anthem for the slackers that worshiped Nirvana. I rolled my eyes. Loser is right, I thought, that no-talent ass-clown couldn't write a good song if his life depended on it. (2) What did I know? I was young and extremely naive. Besides, I was going off "Loser," and only "Loser." A few months later I stayed up late watching MTV and caught the video for "Pay No Mind" on 120 Minutes. I liked that song much more, and began to ease off my ire for Beck's music.

Needless to say, my expectations were not very high when I first saw the video for "Where It's At," Odelay's first single, on MTV in 1996. (3) While the song didn't do much for me at the time, a strange thought popped into my head, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, I'll probably end up loving that song in a few weeks. How I could tell the song would eventually grow on me, I do not know. Perhaps it is because that was the age where, more than ever before, I was constantly opening my mind to new music. It was only a few weeks later that I first borrowed Daydream Nation from a friend, a moment that changed my life forever. Whatever the reason, I knew I would eventually wind up a fan of "Where It's At," and I was right. Two weeks of heavy MTV and Alternative Radio rotation later, I made my usual weekend trip to Best Buy (there were no real Ma and Pa record stores in the 'burbs) and bought Odelay.

At the time I could care less about sampling, genre crossing, Beck's hokey cowpoke attire, or the supposed importance of Odelay that established rock critics were already pelting the album with. I just knew I liked it, a lot. Now that I'm older, I can definitely see the Dust Brother's fingerprints all over this record. I notice the meticulous samples and scratches, the dusty, familiar popping from an old record, funk horns and percussion out the wazzoo. Secretly, I believe that without them, the Dust Brothers and their samples, Beck's follow up to Mellow Gold probably sounds exactly like Mellow Gold. So let's give Beck, or whoever was responsible, some credit for pairing them up. The Dust Brother's anything goes sampling strategy meshed perfectly with Beck's anything goes songwriting approach. Thus, Odelay was a child born of their love for all things rock, roll, funk, soul, country, folk, samples, loops, serious philosophical statements, jokes, samples, samples, samples, more samples, and that fucked-up dreadlocked dog on the album's cover.

Now almost 12 years old, Odelay still holds up rather well. The proof exists in 2004's disappointing Guero, which was also produced by the Dust Brothers. The Dust Brothers, thanks to broader and stricter copyright laws (4), are really just a shadow of their former selves, focusing on beats and slick production instead of fretting over which sample would fit perfectly at any particular moment. Not that it probably would have mattered, Beck too had changed. For once, it seemed like Beck had run out of ideas, so he ripped himself off, mostly looking back to Odelay in the process. (5) Lightning does not strike twice, they say, and Beck wound up looking like the older guy at the college party.

Honestly, who cares. Of course its a bummer that Beck albums don't hit my sweet spot like they used to, but the man certainly had a good run. I'll admit that the jury's still out on whether or not Odelay is even Beck's best album - that's like comparing apples to oranges to pears to, well, you get the idea - but here I am anyway declaring that if you don't own this album yet, you probably shouldn't go around telling anybody. Rather, you should do what I did so many years ago. Take your allowance to the record store (or Best Buy, or wherever you prefer to buy your music) this weekend and make Odelay your own.

(1) Remember, this is Kansas in 1994, we maybe had 3 computers in the whole school with internet capabilities. Maybe. And the Microfisch machines outnumbered them five to one.
(2) Office Space was still several years away, so I highly doubt I actually thought of the phrase "no-talent ass-clown," which is too bad, 'cause that would have been hilarious.
(3) Yep, I'm old enough to remember when MTV was actually one of the places where you would first hear a new song.
(4) Are the Rolling Stones to blame? Someone should ask Richard Ashcroft.
(5) Kudos to him for taking so long to get to that point though. Spoon's a great band and all, but they've basically made the same album how many times now?


Hackworth Artifex said...

I do own Odelay, but it's been a long time since I last listened to it. I think I've only heard it all the way through once or twice.

I had the same initial reaction to Beck that you did, except I never got exposed to him much more... so my opinion never changed.

You're the second, possibly third person whose musical taste I respect that has adamantly recommended Beck, so I should probably give him another try!

Gossip♥Grrl said...

Sea Change is probably my favorite Beck album but Odelay will always have a little spot in my heart. It's funny but when I think back that long ago...Odelay was actually my sister's album and not mine. She was only 8 years old! We did watch alot of MTV in my house though. "Where It's At" definitely wasn't my favorite off the album...just too overplayed and repetitive I think.

Femme Fatale said...

1.) I hated "Loser" too.

2.) I've also heard Beck called "The New Bob Dylan." Doesn't everyone just hate music critics?

3.) It does seem like Beck has run out of ideas, considering he's had how many disappointments in a row?

4.) I do blame the Rolling Stones. I mean, they should be flattered to have one of their lesser known songs given new life like that. Even if it was, you know, lining the Verve's pockets.

5.) "Old guy at the college party" -- is that us?