An unusual and unique album today as we listen to the fifth album from Beck Hansen, known professionally as Beck. The album “Odelay” was his biggest-selling release, and is rated as #424 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time.
As I listened to most of the record with Christie, she raised some very fair observations and questions. One, she pointed out a similarity to the Doors, which I had not previously entertained. I was parked more in a post-modern Lou Reed world. She also connected the album back to Mantronix on the electric side, where I was more thinking Zoo Station-era Bono. Two other important questions she asked were as follows… 1) If an artist relies heavily on sampling, how do they make the sound their own, and 2), on a record with such diversity in sound and style, is it common to have so many different songs likely appealing to different categories of fans?
All of these are great questions, and I felt like it all came together for me on my last listen, which was on a long and quiet ride home last night. It turns out that “Odelay” is a great night-time driving album. It doesn’t put you to sleep, and the sound is always changing so you stay alert and conscious as you change vibes with each track.
Retro surf-rocker “Devils Haircut” opens the album, and it is a great kickoff. It almost sounds like Smashmouth after a few too many intoxicants. Beck plays almost every instrument on this record, and his creative innovation presents an unusual style of rock blended with so many unexpected sounds and samples. “Hotwax” comes next, and it is one of my favorites. With a bluesy feel and some well-timed harmonica, it perfectly synchs up old and new.
Other tracks that stand out to me are “The New Pollution”, “Novacane” and “Jack-Ass”. None of them sound remotely like each other, there really is a diverse and extended mix of songwriting here. The centerpiece of this album is “Where It’s At”, my all-time favorite Beck song. Opening with a moody organ riff, the incredibly hip drumbeat informs the vibe for this anthem to a nerd who rises to his own greatness because he has the technology he needs to rock the house. That house may be an empty apartment, but even so, it is HIS empty apartment and there is no mistake he is in charge as the House DJ. Have I always related to this ironic self-importance? No comment…