Mutations by Beck

Mutations by Beck

Buy Mutations

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, Percussion
 
Mutations 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.

~

1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1998 albums.

The Final Cut by Pink Floyd

The Final Cut by Pink Floyd

Buy The Final Cut

This guest album review is provided by Merry Mercurial, a writer of fiction, essays, reviews, and the “highly subjective” music blog which you can read at her website, The Music According to Merry.

The Final Cut by Pink FloydPink Floyd’s 12th studio release, The Final Cut, debuted on the heels of a hit-heavy album that had the nerve to recruit schoolkids to chant, in heavy British accents, about not needing “no education”. The Wall would go 23 times platinum in the US, fuel a bizarre but beloved movie, and become a capital-m Moment in rock. In a way, fallout from The Final Cut makes perfect sense. If the titular wall of Floyd’s 11th and best-selling album had been a maximum-security border – penning the narrator in with every last fear passed down from his own mother and Mother England – it came to have more in common with the high, dangerous structure from Humpty Dumpty. There really was nowhere to go but down, a bad break was coming, and nothing would put Pink Floyd, as the world knew and loved them, together again.

The Final Cut was conceived of as soundtrack for the 1982 movie adaptation of The Wall, but a different event in ’82 changed its direction. The UK responded to Argentina’s play for sovereignty of the Falkland Islands with a military assault that many – including bassist and primary songwriter Roger Waters – considered trigger-happy. The themes of war and loss that had been scattered throughout The Wall became the focus of The Final Cut. Of Pink Floyd’s albums dating back to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (’67), this one may have offered the clearest message: the past blood shed by soldiers, including Waters’s father, had been spent like water. The post-war dream was dead.

Production efforts were bruised in the melee of a band that would eventually be known nearly as well for their friction as their giant pig float that lumbered over concertgoers. Guitarist David Gilmour protested that several of the songs had originally been trimmed from The Wall; he couldn’t imagine they’d become album-worthy with time. Tensions between Waters and Gilmour escalated until the two would or could no longer work together. They largely recorded like divorced parents communicating through their children. Completed in the latter months of ’82 across eight studio locations, The Final Cut is the only LP on which all writing is credited to Waters and the only to not feature founding keyboardist Richard Wright.

 


The Final Cut by Pink Floyd
Released: March 21, 1983 (Harvest)
Produced by: James Guthrie, Michael Kamen & Roger Waters
Recorded: Mayfair Studios, RAK Studios, Olympic Studios, Abbey Road Studios, Eel Pie Studios, Audio International Studios, and The Billiard Room, London, 1979-1983
Side One Side Two
The Post War Dream
Your Possible Pasts
One of the Few
The Hero’s Return
The Gunner’s Dream
Paranoid Eyes
Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert
The Fletcher Memorial Homee
Southampton Dock
The Final Cut
Not Now John
Two Suns in the Sunset
Group Musicians
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums

 

The album opens with and continues incorporating the faintly disorienting effects Pink Floyd is known for. While the music is as accomplished and mood-appropriate as ever, there are no hooks, no shower singalongs, no delightful sonic montages to show the fun side of Floyd’s dead-serious subject matter. Furnished by Raphael Ravenscroft, even the saxophone – perhaps the instrument most frequently described as “smooth” – sounds throaty and raw in a way that matches Waters’s vocals.

Waters did some singing on The Wall as well – sometimes to powerful effect – but with him taking lead on 12/13 songs, The Final Cut makes it clear that his abilities lie more in conception, composition, and bass. Which isn’t to say his singing was a bad idea altogether. While Gilmour’s voice transitions liquidly from peacenik lullabies to screw-the-man power anthems, it doesn’t simmer with quiet rage the way Waters’s does. He has a way of sounding as volatile when he whispers as when he belts.

What’s more, there’s something about his untrained voice that works on an album that appears to be purposefully unsmooth – sometimes downright uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable that you can hear the movement of Roger Waters’s mouth during spoken-word sections of songs such as “Paranoid Eyes” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home.” It’s uncomfortable that the music bows so low in deference to his undecorated but also unflinching voice: there’s absolutely no place for the political frustration and depression and fury to hide. But that’s likely the point.

Pink Floyd in 1980s

The musical restraint exercised on most of the songs is effective in exposing subtleties of mood. On “Paranoid Eyes,” for instance, the music feels like a brew being stirred in the background. Things reach a boil with the airplane sound, explosion, and jarringly jaunty opening of “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert,” a short (1:16) song that keeps up an album-long indictment of Margaret Thatcher.

The title song is perhaps the most emotional of a very emotional collection; it’s wisely arranged to give way to “Not Now John,” which besides being the most swear-laden of all Pink Floyd’s songs, reintroduces a bigger and more traditionally Floyd sound: prominent guitar, energetic female chorus, and David Gilmour’s voice. And while it’s a relief by this point to hear him, there is little sense of harmony between his and Waters’s vocals.

Though The Final Cut did well in England and climbed as high as number six in the US, it was also the group’s lowest-selling since Meddle, released in ’71. Its lyrics deserved and received praise.  Its overall sound, execution, and very existence were subject to bitterly mixed reviews. This is the last studio album Roger Waters would make with Pink Floyd. The others would continue under the Floyd mantle, against his wishes, without him. They would not come together again until the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park, London, in July 2005. At the time, drummer Nick Mason would emphasize that the performance was a one-time thing. It didn’t spell reunion. He would also, however, make it clear that if the band were to reunite properly, his bags were already packed.

~

1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.