Mutations by Beck

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Mutations by BeckFor his sixth studio album, Beck and company decided to move in a decidedly non-commercial direction. The result is the lo-fi, psychedelic-oriented potpourri of Mutations. Released in late 1998, the songs on this album are masterfully composed to appear simple and straightforward at first, but reveal more sonic depth upon subsequent listens. Despite being less commercially successful than previous records, the album reached the Top 20 in the US and has gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide.

Beck’s previous album, 1996’s Odelay, was a commercial breakthrough as a fine blend of diverse genres such as country, blues, rap, jazz and rock with a methodical, “cut-and-paste” type method of production. The ensuing aftermath of success saw the normally reclusive artist land a Grammy nomination along with appearances on mainstream television. With this sudden rise, a proper strategy for a follow-up had less time to mature.

Entering the sessions for Mutations in Los Angeles, Beck and his touring band recorded over a dozen songs in two weeks with producer Nigel Godrich. In contrast to the previous album’s production, much of this captured the performance of the musicians live as they recorded with heavy use of acoustic guitars, keyboards and strings.


Mutations by Beck
Released: November 22, 1998 (DCG)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & Nigel Godrich
Recorded: Los Angeles, March–April 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Cold Brains
Nobody’s Fault but My Own
Lazy Flies
Canceled Check
We Live Again
Tropicalia
Dead Melodies
Bottle of Blues
O Maria
Sing It Again
Static
Beck Hansen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Percussion
Smokey Hormel – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Manning – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Meldal-Johnsen – Bass, Vocals
Joey Waronker – Drums, PercussionMutations by Beck

The opening track and single release “Cold Brains” features some oddly poetic lyrics which Beck compared to the humorous side of Leonard Cohen with a musical vibe that is “like country music on the moon”. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” was another single release which went on to become one of the most beloved songs in the artist’s library as it builds from a sparse setting into a rich orchestral arrangement.

The upbeat and pulsing “Lazy Flies” follows, leading to a break for the Western flavored tune “Canceled Check” and the harpsichord laden “We Live Again”. The album’s third single, “Tropicalia” was inspired by world music, especially music from Brazil. The song was written by Beck while riding on a tour bus.

Beck

As the album progresses it features many lesser known tracks which continue to touch on diverse musical areas. “Dead Melodies” is an acoustic ballad with subtle backing vocals, “Bottle Of Blues” lives up to its title’s promise, “O Maria” features a piano-driven swing, while “Sing It Again” and “Static” each feature a subtle musical landscape. The most interesting track of the latter album is “Diamond Bollocks”, a track with many twists and turns while maintaining a catchy groove and consistent, moderate beat. The album then concludes with the minimalist “Runners Dial Zero”.

Mutations was originally intended to be released by the indie label Bong Load Records. However, after the executives at Beck’s major label, Geffen, heard the finished product they reneged on their permission to let the smaller label release the record. This led to years of litigation between the artist and label over this album which eventually won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

Odelay by Beck

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Odelay by BeckOdelay is a rich sonic tapestry which incorporates elements of grunge, punk, folk, country, blues, rap and other elements, including a heavy use of sampling from established songs. The album was the fifth overall and second major label release for Beck and became his breakthrough effort into mainstream critical and commercial success. Overall, this record is an eclectic, zig-zagging experience which seems to employ an effort to include something for various groups of musical fans.

A pre-high school drop out from Los Angeles, Beck Hanson worked a stream of menial jobs while trying to establish a career as a folk and blues performer in the late 1980s. After migrating to New York, Beck became involved in the East Village’s anti-folk scene and began to write free-associative songs. In 1992, he recorded the experimental, hip-hop infused anthem, “Loser”, which was released as a limited, 500-copy single in early 1993 but received heavy radio play and topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Between 1993 and 1994, Beck released three independent albums; Golden Feelings, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, and One Foot In the Grave; as well as the major-label debut Mellow Gold in 1994. Beck also began performing on major tours and festivals, a workload which made it quite ironic that he was deemed king of “the slacker generation”.

In its original sessions, Odelay was slated to be an acoustic-driven album. Eventually, Beck abandoned this approach and enlisted the Dust Brothers (E.Z. Mike Simpson and “King Gizmo”) as co-producers, who infused their heavily-treated, layered percussive back-beats to many of the tracks. Odelay was also the first full-fledged production where Beck had the time and budget to indulge in compositional creativity.


Odelay by Beck
Released: June 18, 1996 (DGC)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & The Dust Brothers
Recorded: various studios, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Devils Haircut
Hotwax
Lord Only Knows
The New Pollution
Derelict
Novacane
Jack-Ass
Where It’s At
Minu
Sissyneck
Readymade
High 5 (Rock the Catskills)
Ramshackle
Beck Hanson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Harmonica, Percussion
Mike Boito – Keyboards, Trumpet
Joey Waronker – Drums, Percussion

Odelay by Beck

Most of the songs on Odelay were co-written by Beck, John King and Michael Simpson, starting with “Devils Haircut”. This opener features a heavy rock riff with the first of many sampled electronic rhythms, complete with well-placed sound effects between the verses and choruses. “Hotwax” changes direction with a bluesy acoustic intro, soon joined by electric elements in an enjoyable groove through the heart of the song as well as a slightly hip-hop vocal approach by Beck. “Lord Only Knows” replicates the Rolling Stones’ many renditions of country/rock, especially in the vocal delivery and upbeat acoustic rhythms with slide electric overtones. “The New Pollution” is a basic, repetitive sample song with a decent vocal melody until the mid-section, which includes a distant saxophone and some good keyboard effects, while “Derelict” features a longer and more complex repeating percussive pattern in trying to accomplish a certain dark vibe. “Novacane” is the first track on the album which goes full hip-hop, excessive scratching et all.

The album regains focus with the sixties flavored folk/pop, “Jack-Ass”. Featuring a good mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and a sharp xylophone pattern. This song samples a cover of the classic “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, originally by Bob Dylan on the album Bringing It All Back Home. The even more popular,
“Where It’s At”, features a great, laid back electric piano during intro and verse before launching into full robotic hip-hop chorus chant as a nice fusing of genres. The song was written and first performed in 1995, and features some of the better lyrics and rhyming on the album;

Pick yourself up, off the side of the road, with your elevator bones and your whip-flash tones / Members only, hypnotizers, move through the room like ambulance drivers…”

“Minus” is a track that is a bit different, production wise, as it gets into a decent but thick rock groove before unfortunately breaking apart near the end. The whistling intro of “Sissyneck” soon breaks into a quasi-country/rap, which is at once stylistic but also partially farcical. Ultimately, the fine slide steel guitar by guest Gregory Liesz makes this song worthwhile as a fine listen.

Beck

The album wraps up unevenly with its three final disparate tracks. “Readymade” delves back into the avante garde, driven by Beck’s bass and guitar rhythms and vocal melody along with short flourishes of interesting lead instruments. “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” is the dreadful nadir of the album as a kitsch hip-hop rendition which detracts from the finer elements of the album. The album concludes with the excellent dark ballad “Ramshackle”, with a laid back acoustic arrangement and slightly harmonized vocals during the choruses that sweeten it up just enough to make it all soar.

Odelay was a Top 20, platinum selling album on both sides of the Atlantic and received several Grammy nominations in years subsequent to its release. In the wake of its release, the album at once propelled Beck’s career and opened up scrutiny on the legalities of album sampling use in new albums, which pretty much assured that this exact approach would not be replicated again.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.