Bong Load / DGC Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/07/1999
Some time ago, I dug out Mellow Gold, the major-label debut from Beck, and discovered the tape wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was when I bought it. Had I not given the album a second shot in front of the stereo, I never would have given Beck Hansen a second thought, and I never would have considered picking up Odelay, his 1996 follow-up.
Something happened in between the two albums (besides Beck's permitted experimentation with other smaller labels - albums I still have to pick up). Somehow, Beck became cool... something that comes through in the music (as well as the production assistance from the Dust Brothers). For the most part, gone was the "slacker" sound that made up a lot of the songs on Mellow Gold like "Pay No Mind" and "Loser". Now, Beck was singing with some confidence behind him, as well as a sound that paid tribute to both the early days of hip-hop and to the psychedelic '60s. (Memo to Mike Myers: it's probably too late for the upcoming movie, but if you ever do a third Austin Powers film, you've got to consider Beck's music and Beck himself for the film.)
The lead-off single, "Where It's At," delivers a one-two punch of this new-found confidence. The delivery of the rap vocal by Beck and the overall groove of the track let you know that he has learned a lot in his few short years in the limelight. But, surprisingly, "Where It's At" isn't the best track on Odelay - though it was a solid lead-off track.
"Jack-Ass" is a more relaxed vocal delivery, but it fits the dreamy sound of the first part of the song. I didn't hear this song until recently - that, along with the opportunity to buy this tape and three others for a buck in an eBay auction, convinced me to finally add this tape to my collection. "The New Pollution" is a track that has a "Laugh-In"-type '60s chic to it, and is an incredible track. But even these are not the best on the album.
That honor I reserve for the opening track, "Devil's Haircut," another song that captures the '60s vibe and turns it into a tour de force. Beck knows that he's firing on all cylinders for most of Odelay, and this song is early proof that he's going to enjoy this moment of glory.
In fact, the whole first half of Odelay is beyond reproach; tracks like "Hotwax" and "Novacane" all shine. The second half of the album is decent enough, but by the time you get to tracks like "Readymade" and "Ramshackle," it's almost as if the energy level is wearing the listener down. Had these tracks been scattered anywhere else on the album, I'm willing to bet my opinion of them would be higher - and I don't have a bad opinion of the songs as it is.
Odelay is the album that silenced many of Beck's critics - including myself - and showed that not every artist suffered from the "sophomore slump". While I have yet to pick up Mutations, I feel confident in saying that Odelay is Beck's masterpiece.