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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Music: Beck's Best Re-Boots With Bonus Disc

Beck is all "I see you jacked my look Michael Cera..."

Many reviews of the new two-disc Deluxe Edition of Beck's 1996 opus Odelay have seemed to include an obligatory Kurt Cobain compare-and-contrast alt-stars of the 90s moment. The standard trope is that Kurt was too raw and full of feeling and fellow blonde skinny boy Beck swooped in post-mortem to lighten the mood and take us all away on a wave of irony. Ah, hindsight.

My obligatory Beck/Kurt connection is my memory of the day Cobain died, when Beck's "Loser" was riding up the charts and MTV actually meant Music Televison. Stone-faced MTV News guy (yes there was such a thing as MTV News) Kurt Loder was explaining that an unidentified body had been found in Cobain's house, and it was a blode male in his 20s. My friend turned to me and said hopefully, "Maybe its Beck..."

"Loser" and the accompanying album Mellow Gold did seem like a wispy thin coton candy strand of irony compared to Cobain's gravitas at the time. There was no reason to imagine life beyond a one-hit wonder for the onetime Beck Hansen whereas Nirvana had already been crowned the band of a generation.

The reality is that both artists were expert magpies, building their own sounds and stances out of the accumulated weight of music past. Cobain also in his own way did as much to obscure his true self and his subject matter as Beck did with sometimes obtuse lyrics and misleading explanations.

Ultimately they were both expert curators. Cobain shilled for beloved bands of the past that were barely known outside of rarefied circles: The Vaselines, Meat Puppets, Wipers, and many more. Beck reconfigured underground folk, blues, hip-hop, and indie rock styles, and Odelay is in some ways a tip of the hat to The Beastie Boys 1989 masterpiece Paul's Boutique a massive sales flop that accumulated a rabid cult. They both shared a fondness for Calvin Johnson and K Records.

So on to Odelay, an album that holds up magnificently and benefits from the remastering job (as silly as it might seem to remaster an album that came out in the heyday of CD tech.) Beck hired the Dust Brothers, the producers behind the aforementioned Paul's Boutique. Like the Beastie's album, Odelay is a crazy quilt of samples from sources as diverse as Van Morrison's early band Them, Rachmaninoff, and a host of obscure soul singles. These are fused with a strong set of songs that touch on hip-hop, indian tinged psychedelia , hardcore, noise rock and folk blues.

Beck would never sound as simultaneously expansive and unified again as he does here. Subsequent albums, as excellent as they are, tend to explore certain aspects of each of these touchstones. The follow up for example, Mutations, strips away all of the sampling and hip-hop and rock influences to explore a baroque trippy folk.

Expanding Odelay to two discs blunts its impact somewhat with a grab bag of worthy and second string songs and remixes. "Electric Music and The Summer People" for instance, was a b-side in a different, superior version than the one here. The remixes are almost all negligable, as is a clever mariachi version of "Jack-Ass" entitled "Burro" natch.

This gets 4 out of 5 Kurt Loders, but the original album is a stone 5 Loder classic:

Here's the freaky-deaky video for "New Pollution":

And "Minus" live getting torn up!:

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