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Beck - Odelay

2009-11-27 08:06

"High 5 (Rock the Catskills)" contains one of the funniest moments in self-referential pop, ever. Ambling along nicely as a faux hip-hop dance ditty, the highpoint of the song is boorishly interrupted by the sound of a thrashing hard rock record. After a few seconds the noise cuts unceremoniously again, and Mike D (of Beastie Boys – sampled from a De La Soul track!) is heard shouting: "Turn that shit off, man! What's wrong with you? Man, get the other record! Damn!"

Of course, that's not even mentioning that “High 5” has a flamenco intro, a hip-hop break to kick the beat, a heavily distorted industrial-style lead vocal a la Revolting Cocks (!), and a cheese-deluxe 909 drumbeat. "Rocking the plastic like a man from the catskills", indeed.

Several moments like these in Beck Hansen's discography (see below) are examples of his mad genius. Most - if not all – his albums are full of sublime touches that both validate and defy the wunderkind’s irreverent and seemingly maniacal musical persona.

But Odelay remains the most consistently pleasant album to listen to. Even 13 years post. Even considering the seemingly disparate sonic elements and samplings and references. Or maybe because of all these things.

Cunningly disguised Americana-tinged ballads "Sissyneck" and "Ramshackle" sneak up on you, with Samba horns, R&B organs and rock guitars threatening to punctuate the bridges - as they eventually do on “Readymade”.

Deep soul grooves "Where it's At" and "High 5" pretend to be dance anthems - and become them on MTV, strangely – but are actually just playgrounds for Hansen and the Dust Brothers to fuck with your perceptions of what you think you're listening to.

Heavily lo-fied and down-sampled beats and sound bites interrupt deceptively haunting melodies, often with lyrical turns that remind you of John Lennon’s nonsense poetry in their finest moments:

Love machines on the sympathy crutches
Discount orgies on the dropout buses
Hitching a ride with the bleeding noses
Coming to town with the brief case blues
- "Devil’s Haircut"

Odelay is a happy kid’s canvas of no-limits ingenuity, the result of someone at Geffen giving Hansen and the Dust Brothers some sonic paint, a truck full of craft materials, glue and scissors. The result is a non-conformist thrill ride of mash-ups, counter-pop and garage rock sensibilities. Basically, it’s one of the finest alternative albums ever made.

The album has received several prestigious thumbs-ups through the years. Here are some according to Wikipedia:
Odelay won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1997.
It was ranked 16 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005".
It was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll, and also in the NME's annual critics poll.
In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Odelay the 51st greatest album of all time.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 305 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Voters in Channel 4's 2005 "100 Greatest Albums" poll placed it at number 73.
The music website Pitchfork Media ranked it at #19 on their top 100 albums of the 1990s.

Looking elsewhere – Beck's wildly inventive discography:
Golden Feelings (1993)
Stereopathetic Soulmanure (1994)
Mellow Gold (1994)
One Foot in the Grave (1994)
Odelay (1996)
Mutations (1998)
Midnite Vultures (1999)
Sea Change (2002)
Guero (2005)
The Information (2006)
Modern Guilt (2008)

* Anton Marshall hosts SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL classic music parties, every Saturday at Speedway 105 Café in Gardens, Cape Town.

A flamenco guitar intro, a hip-hop break, a distorted industrial rock lead vocal, a cheesy 909 drumbeat, a heavy metal bridge. In one song? Yup, it must be Beck.

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