Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
There are those who will tell you that Beck's Mutations and Sea Change are two masterpieces. And the thing is, if you're really sleepy, or want to be really sleepy, they're both good albums. But, at the end of the day, you can cut off some detritus, and end up with a sweet, and varied, low-tempo album that is also fun to quietly sing along to (there are loud sing alongs on other albums). The only track that I really like that I ended up cutting off of this is "Golden Age", which will likely show up on another album.
When I was talking with a friend about the most recent Beck albums (Colors and Hyperspace), she mentioned that she really enjoyed the first single from Hyperspace because it was upbeat. Lyrically, maybe, but it's got a snoozy rhythm, which is fine, but which I don't consider "upbeat". This is a downbeat album. And I've arranged it as such. I've tried to give it some variety via musical influences and instruments, since the whole album has a despairing feel.
I think this is a good song to listen to when you're at home, sad, and not looking to get happy any time soon. It's okay to have days like those. And I hope this works as a worthwhile soundtrack for those times.
As a bridge to Odelay, we're starting this off shoulder shaking with some low key white folk rap Elevator Music. Slipshod rhyming lyrics and background whats. Keyboard chintzes over actual piano. Busy signal percussion.
We're lulled to the country honkytonk piano of Cancelled Check, a breakup song for the end of a friendship with a rotten egg. / It's crystal clear your time is nearly gone. It's nice when someone breaks up with a friend, and not a romantic partner. Sorry, bucko, you're a pain in the neck. There's also some interesting background moaning before the final chorus.
Your sorry eyes cut through the bone / They make it hard to leave you alone / Leave you here wearing your wounds / Waving your guns at somebody new / Baby you're lost / Baby you're lost / Baby you're A Lost Cause. A great moving on song. That friend who done you wrong? Sure, you still care about them, but you can't spare the energy without ruining yourself. So you're going to stop ruining yourself and wave goodbye.
And even though you were hurt, you can't point all your fingers at your former friend. It's Nobody's Fault But (Your) Own. When the road is full of nails / Garbage pails and darkened jails / And their tongues / Are full of heartless tales / That drain on you / Who would ever notice you / You fade into a shaded room. The strings saw away at your heart.
And when you're on a roll, Sing It Again. For those moments when you just want to be alone to think about how everything ended badly, but at least they ended. Right? The imagery is a bit more straight-forward than Odelay Beck, but sometimes you don't have the energy to be all cryptic-like, y'know? Just pull out your harmonica and blow a melancholy blues.
We stay solidly in country piano territory with O Maria, everybody knows the fabric of folly / is falling apart at the seams. This is a sing-along song in a sad country bar anywhere along the timeline. It blows a horn solo. It na na na na nas
Then we get some robot twang country. Cold Brains / Unmoved / Untouched / Unglued. This is one of those, I guess upbeat, downtempo songs about depression that harmonicas against an optimistic bassline and then throws some more effects at you until you wonder if you maybe ate some edibles before you laid down.
If "Cold Brains" was a charcoaled portrait of general sadness, Lonesome Tears paints some watercolor over it. It's more about getting beyond a relationship using questions than "getting over" a relationship by finding answers. If the lyrics were a computer language, it'd be Basic, but it's a pretty simple that then ramps out with some Beatles White Album style effects.
Bottle Of Blues was the song that convinced me that soft Beck was still good Beck. For some reason, I just picture by him by a lake or a river, with a band floating on a nearby dock, singing this song about how he's just generally sad about how he has unrequieted love for someone he probably doesn't even know very well. It's still nobody's fault. But now it's not even really directional like a tired soldier / with nothing to shoot. (And now I'm picturing Neil Patrick Harris saluting, and saying "General Malaise!")
If Little One is a lullaby for a child, it's a depressing listen. I like to think that "Little One" is one of his shorter friends. This previously unmentioned friend was listening to the last few Beck songs, and tells Beck that he's bringing him down, and Beck plays this little ditty expressing his emotions. And the friend rolls over and goes to sleep, knowing that Beck is going to keep Becking.
All the country influence is ok, but Beck is going to get more various influences, so for now let's go somewhere between Jimmy Buffet Florida and steel drum Carribean music with Tropicalia. Beck gets outside of himself so that he can watch what depressed Beck looks like from the outside. Misery waits in vague hotels / to be evicted.
That slightly upbeat track might give you the feeling that you Guess (You're) Doing Fine. You can be sad and still be healthy. I bade a friend farewell / I can do whatever pleases me. What a nice sentiment to end a sad album on. I'm not great, but I'm fine.
Except it wouldn't be true would it? "Guess I'm Doing Fine" was still a sad ballad. Fine is a low, low bar. It ain't happiness. It's Static. We end on this acknowledgement that we might someday we'll be able to laugh about the sadness we're currently feeling, but that doesn't mean we aren't allowed to be sad now.
One of my favorite artists at the turn of the millennium, both when I was a 90s kid, trying to avoid the Kid Rockification of rock, and when I was depressed in Burlington, Vermont, looking for some smooth ballads, was Beck. The two of us were always on the same page. When I was happy, Beck was happy, when I needed to sit in my room and write about love, he was there to croon about how awful it was. Then, at some point in the 2010s, he lost me. I still enjoyed the way his mind works, but he'd entered the 80s Bob Dylan phase of his career. There were still some interesting tracks, but it was mostly just mediocre singer songwriter tunes that didn't live up to his earlier work.
Today, at work, I saw an article about how the new Beck album was very good again. Not a masterpiece, the writer suggested, but no longer just mid-tempo melancholia. So I bought the album, and I'll be toying with that and his more recent albums in the next couple of days.
Until then, I'll share my reimagined albums from him.
Beck is another artist, where I'm less concerned with chronology, and more with how an album sounds together. I'm going to alternate between the more playful albums, and the more sweeping lowkey albums. And there will be many fewer of them than there are actual Beck albums.
You're bored with music. All the rock on the radio sounds like Kurt Cobain is dead, and everyone's raiding his vault. The boy bands are cracking out of their Faberge eggs. Alternative rock makes no more sense. U2 is alternative. Kid Rock is alternative. Green Day is alternative. Marilyn Manson is alernative. Oasis is alternative. Pavement is alternative. Blink 182 is alternative. None of this makes sense to you. Country is almost alternative music as Garth Brooks goes pop, and Shania Twain exists. All the straight up pop is anthemic white ladies or young blonde Mouseketeers. Every R&B song on the radio is either fighting about a guy, hating on a guy, or remembering that Biggie and Tupac are dead. This does make sense, but sometimes you're in a rock mood, and that's what's disappointing you.
That guy who had the song that people didn't understand the lyrics to drops an album with The Dust Brothers, and, ohhh, this doesn't make sense, but in a Glorious way.
Heads are hanging from the garbageman trees / Mouthwash, jukebox, gasoline, / Pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets / Smiling eyes with 'em out of the sockets. Please. Please more. Devil's Haircut has no bullshit for you. Drum loop background growlers high hat a horn that sounds like a mosquito singing through an elephant's trunk. Scream the chorus at the end.
Then another scream before the twang of aphorisms and geee-tar, Lord Only Knows why this title track isn't called by the album title's name as it Odelays into a Titanic hammock. Don't call us when the new age gets old enough to drink. A rare fade out.
Whistling a tune of country inertia when my neck is broken / and my pants ain't getting no bigger. The emergency broadcast system for line dancers? Sissyneck has the toe touch down to the rhinestone boots. Sweet chorus harmony. Pretends he doesn't care about your problems. Wails over congos.
There's a vinyl hiss. Empty boxes in a pawn shop brain. Spare spare and breakdown. Guitar out of nowhere turns elevator music and the elevator is stuck forever. Twang that mouth harp. Pick that guitar like it's Readymade.
High 5 [Rock The Catskills] hip hops techno. Samples samples vocal fuzz music stops and starts like who is directing the symphony for this silent film? Rap verse. Screamy chorus. Shaming breakdown then bring back the music. Say oooooo la la.
Bring it down. String an alternative (there it is there's that word that stupid nonsense doesn't describe any music I've ever heard label) lullaby. Something's in the way of this slightly countrified every 90s downtempo Ramshackle lament. Your train's in the sand / Ramshackle land /Let the rats watch the races.
From silence, a blues riff country. I like pianos in the evening sun. Truly, the sequel to the first hit that doesn't appear on the album. Spanish chorus untranslated. Harmonica solo metal. Boop your beep in a gleep gleep record scratch. Hotwax residues / you never lose in your razorblade shoes. says The Enchanting Wizard Of Rhythm.
Tom Waits drags a set of junkyard windchimes through a swamp, shooting venom at the passersby. Derelict Dylan steals a sitar packed a suitcase and threw it away. Passes the cashed song to the left. An organ will see you out, folk.
Disco the funk into some colored lights and dance your chaos to The New Pollution. Alternawhat? Alternawho? Saxaphone in the alternawhich. Keyboard jangle. She's got a paradise camouflage / Like a whip-crack sending me shivers / She's a boat through a strip-mine ocean / Riding low on the drunken rivers. Let your chaos wind down to sway.
Novacane is back to samples and simple strings. Wait, no. Harmonica and buzz guitar. Wait, no. Disco hook. No, wait. Keep on talking like a Novocaine hurricane / Low static on the poor man's short-wave. Radio jumps into Beastie Boy fuzz. Scratch the record. Change the channel. This chaos. This buzzsaw. This Moog? This tonal atonal. This Daft Punk is listening. This wind down stereo out.
Tropicalia melancholia. I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes. / Loose ends tying the noose in the back of my mind. Is none of this album actually the happy the music makes? Somber bombast. Bob Dylan harmonica. Beck beck bob. Beck beck dust. Donkey donkey donkey. Jackass.
Record hiss skip. Record hiss. Needle down. Sweet sweet samples and tones are Where It's At. That was a good drum break.
Here we go here we go Nirvana 90s. Alternathis, I guess. Grunge Minus vinyl pops. It's a sensation / A bankrupt corpse / In the garbage classes / With the crutches of frogs / Frogs! Frogs! Frogs! Fizzle. Twang. Out.