DGC Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/25/1999
Success can be a bitch. And there's no better way to ward off those pesky bandwagon jumping fans than than to release something that can send those fans back to clamoring for the latest Bush or N'Sync release. Nirvana did it (helllllo Incesticide or In Utero), Faith No More did it ( Angel Dust) and to a certain extent, Nine Inch Nails did it ( Broken).
The problem is, should an artist risk their creative future just to piss off some fans? A point can be made that all the former albums listed could have been genuine artistic statements, but there was some aching in those releases to weed out the casual fans.
Beck fits right into this artistic dilemma. Mellow Gold did bring in some cashola, but Odelay sent Beck into icon status. Any fan who has scrapped up enough cash to get some of his more experimental b-side releases will vouch that the guy can just be plain weird sometimes. So, in 1998, Beck released Mutations, a not-exactly b-sides collection, but definitely not a follow-up to Odelay.
Like an anti-social friend or a hip, but weird uncle, Mutations is more than a tad off-setting at first. But the more times you listen to Mutations, the more you are rewarded. The weird, very '60s psychedelic groove of "Lazy Flies" and "O Maria" are the furthest thing from anything off of Odelay.
However, anyone who purchased Mellow Gold or One Foot In The Grave can tell you that Beck has no interest staying in one particular genre. "Canceled Check" and the irresistible blues swagger of "Bottle Of Blues" show Beck would fit right at home in your standard blues joint on open mike night.
At the helm for Mutations is Nigel Godrich, the producer of Radiohead's 1997 masterpiece, OK Computer, another album that refused to be pegged down in one particular music genre. Godrich is able to give Mutations a unified feel, despite its creator's manic, "throw everything to the mix board and see what happens" style of approach. For as unconventional an album as Mutations can be, it has this organic beauty to it that cannot be denied.
People who miss the waist-shaking-funk-fest of Odelay need only to wait a couple of weeks until Beck releases his new album. Or they can listen to the hidden track at the end of Mutations. Oops, sorry, I didn't mean to give that away.
Mutations takes a lot more work than Odelay to get to know. But listeners should understand that Beck has made a near-perfect imperfect album. Too professional to give a symbolic middle finger album to thin the herd and too uncompromising to give his audience a bunch of Odelay outtakes, Mutations will eventually stand as a fully regarded album in Beck's catalog. Not bad for something that was meant to just "tide over" fans.