Geffen Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/03/1999
Midnite Vultures is supposed to be Beck's "Dumb party album" of the year. Leave it to Beck to pull something off like this. He's got enough props from critics to fill Steve Forbes and Donald Trump's heads.
To get the understatement out of the way, Beck is unpredictable. One moment he's begging you to pass the doochie from coast to coast. The next moment, he's this shy, quiet, reflective guy who is crafting some pretty moving songwriting on Mutations. The easiest route to a new album would be to "combine the two" styles into one album. But Beck knows that task would be all too easy.
Instead, Midnite Vultures shakes, swivels and rocks. The chorus, "I want to defy the logic of all sex laws" and the empowering line, "And make all the lesbians scream," is about as political as Beck gets on Midnite Vultures. Beck already knows he has most critics in his pocket. On this album, he wants to hang with the B-boys.
That's what makes songs like "Get Real Paid," such a blast. But for all the "bitch slap," lines Beck drops, he is a musician in the truest form. Each song on Midnite Vultures is fairly rooted in a steady, groove-oriented rhythm. The fact that he rehearsed this album with a live band instead of his typical "handle every aspect" tactic establishes a breezy flow to Midnite Vultures.
However, groove-oriented doesn't necessarily translate into being accessible. Much like Mutations, Midnite Vultures will take some getting used to. A couple of listens. Maybe even a couple of months before a final judgement can be rendered. But there's enough variety in the album to keep you coming back.
The '70s is Beck's obsession on Midnite Vultures. This will probably not come as much of a surprise to most Beck fans. Dylan-esque folk and funk have been two prominent influences on most of Beck's songs. But Beck seems to be taking some pointers from "The Artis..." URHHH..."TERRORIST" on this album as well. (Damned editor politics.)
The song, "Peaches And Cream," is the song "The TERRORIST" has been wanting to make for the past decade. "Milk And Honey," another highlight on Midnite Vultures, incorporating both interesting musical transitions as well as head-scratching rhyming choices.
Does Midnite Vultures have drawbacks? Yes, depending on how you look at it. You can almost see this album as Beck's version of Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys. That was the first album where the formula greatness started to feel like a formula.
But taken as a whole, Midnite Vultures is a great listen. It may not create a revolution like some of his previous releases, but it stands just fine as one of the better releases this year. So what if it is not an undisputed masterpiece? A win streak is still a win streak.