Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I was at a party in Allston in 2005 with Ben, when some wax mustached wannabe skateboard punk walked into the room, stood directly between me and Ben, and began talking about some band he'd seen puke in a similar basement a few weeks before. The subject of Beck's then new album, Guero, came up, and I said "I really like it. It's a little top heavy, but there aren't any songs I actively dislike."
He made the thumbs down gesture with both hands. "'Hell Yes' is okay, but the rest of it? Nah. Nah. It's like Beck's dad music."
I've seen that guy in the past couple of years, still riding his penny-farthing bicycle. Now with two kids in tow, probably named Smock and Duckfart, and like every other person who's ever seen that bicycle, they long to see it and its rider slowly crushed under a steamroller.
I would argue that Guero is Beck's last full on fun album. The Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack is a blast, but Beck's contribution is basically an EP, that I included on Midnite Vultures Afterparty. The lyrics are still inventive here, the music is mostly upbeat, and you could put it on the background of a party that wasn't quaalude themed.
"Jackass" isn't even my favorite song on Odelay but the mariachi version, Burro, is a joyous fucken delight that I wouldn't deprive of any Beck fan. It helps set the unusual tone for this summer festive album.
A little radio and car transient noise builds into Rental Car, it has garage fuzz vocals and a nice distorted guitar riff. It's one of the few songs on the album that I couldn't tell you what it's about without actively looking at the lyrics. I can't sing along with it, apart from the yea yea yea and the la la la la la la la parts. But it keeps me moving quickly down the street when I'm listening to it. (It turns out to be a song about a rental car trip that seems like it will end in death.)
So I guess it makes sense to transition it into Farewell Ride. It might be an alternate version of the previous song, but it's more Westerny. Clearer lyrics. Classic American harmonica and string arrangement. Horses in place of rental cars. Some may say this might be your last farewell ride.
Emergency Exit continues the driving to death saga. It feels like another part of the previous track. The tempo barely changes, the instrumentation is similar. It's a little too much / To ask of faith it's a little late / To wait for fate /So tell the angels / What you seen / Scarecrow shadow / On Nazarene is not a terrible epitaph or Beck lyric to go out on.
There is no bad place or bad album for that gorgeous intro lick to Loser to land. I know this is way late in the discography for this, the song that made him famous, but it just fits better on this album than any others. Though, I kind of want it on all of his albums. I remember arguing about the chorus in high school. "It's not nonsense, it's Spanish. Don't you take Spanish? How do you not know the word loser in Spanish? Isn't it what the teacher calls you when you scratch your head into piles of dandruff on your desk?" Get crazy with the Cheez-Whiz.
Electric Music And The Summer People is a dance party classic that they never play. It's got the 70s danceability of "New Pollution" with a late 60s summer clean lyric sound, and some Odelay effects. That's what I like.
The track spirals out into the top-heavy section of Guero. E-Pro is a banger. The first time I listened to this album played, I had to fight myself from just clicking the back button and listening to this again. This was a few years before it became apparent that Boston's WFNX was going to, like most good rock radio stations, disappear, and I would crank this every time it played. Suck it Penny-Farthing Bicycle Dad.
Que Onda Guero is a joyous celebration of Latin American street festival summer days with classic Beck lyrics. Guero, being one of his childhood nicknames. The track closes with Guero being lightly teased as he walks by.
I saw her, yeah I saw her with her black tongue tied / Round the roses / Fist pounding on a vending machine / Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger / With a noose she can hang from the sun / And put it out with her dark sunglasses /Walking crooked down the beach / She spits on the sand where their bones are bleaching / And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / She doesn't even know what's wrong / And I know I'm gonna make her die / Take her where her soul belongs /And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / Nothing that I wouldn't try / Hey, my sun-eyed Girl.
Missing has me changing up my rhythm of my fast walking along with my boots full of rocks to this album. But it doesn't slow me down. It's the last of the tracks that were originally at the beginning of the album.
Look, Penny Farthing Guy was a moron, but Hell Yes is one of the best songs on the album. And I thought that, even before I knew that the female vocalist is Cristina Ricci. It's definitely the song that most seems like it could have been on Midnite Vultures.
Totally Confused, on the other hand, is pure Odelay, maybe even One Foot In The Grave. It's a downer folk ballad with a female backup vocalist. It certainly seems written by a younger Beck, one unsure about love, and one who expresses it directly instead of using fractured imagery to tell his story.
We up the tempo back to "E-Pro" level with Black Tambourine. It's purely a slightly lighter version of that song, with less catchier lyrics. But with an oh-oh-ohhh that I just didn't want to leave off the album. Penny Farthing Guy might have been right about this track.
Broken Drum is one of those songs that I love but never remember the name of. Or the lyrics. Unless I'm listening to it. In which case, I know all the words. It could have been from Sea Change as it's got sweeping sleepy riffs and vocals.
Forget the Jack White appearance, Go It Alone is just a magic song to listen to. While it also has the instrumentation that recalls "E-Pro", it puts the vocals first in both the mix, and in importance. It's spare use of various effects before White crunches in with guitar, is *chef kiss*.
Scarecrow dolphins into the previous song's fade out. It's also a lyric popping song. But it's much more upbeat, despite the nasally downer vocals.
Closing out the album is Earthquake Weather, which hits us with a scratch, and some people talking in the background. It's another song that would have been at home on Odelay but is a welcome closer here, as it leaves us with effects instead of a fade out or a sharp vocal cutoff.
If Odelay was a declaration of weird intent, and Mutations was a lament about how bad relationships can crumple you into a man-smelling ball, then Midnite Vultures Afterparty is the ridiculous dance party you use to shake the Bottle Of Blues away.
The original Midnite Vultures is all weird, bubbly, and bright. I have excised the most repetitive of them, and replaced them with the fuzz bangers off of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Sountrack, a couple of acoustic tracks from One Foot In The Grave, and the song from Sea Change that I accidentally left off of Mutations. I think it ends up making a more complex, but equally fun album.
There are two tracks on Midnite Vultures that could start, end, or be placed on any album by Beck, and they're guaranteed hits. The original album starts with one of them, I've opted for the otheer. Debra is a lost Prince song. I would absolutely believe it, if Beck claimed that Prince wrote it for him. It's an all falsetto song about wanting to have a threesome with someone he met at JC Penny. And her sister. I think her name's Debra.
Mixed Bizness perfectly meshes the sound of Midnite Vultures with the lyricism of Odelay. Word up to the man thing / She's always cold lamping / Visine at the canteen / I just want to watch you dance. And it's hard not to dance to this ridiculous album with is beeps, blorps, and doo-dooo-doos.
Our first scruffy garage song is Threshold, which proudly lets you know where the beginning of the song is while fuzzing the fuzz out of some fuzzy guitar. It's technically by fictional band, Sex Bob-omb, but Beck wrote it, and he performs the fuzz out of it.
On rethinking this album, there are actually three songs that could be hits, and can work as any part of the album. Get Real Paid is a mellow banger which closes with the often missung, rarely understood line, Touch my ass if you're qualified.
Summertime is another Sex Bob-omb song With my peacock hands and my tangerine skulls /
And my grizzly bear face and my voice from Target. It doesn't make me fondly recollect any summers of my youth, or invoke what scene in the movie it was from, but it is a fun sing-along fuzzy song.
I've included the first third of Milk & Honey as it has a nice progressive rise from the previous track into
Sexx Laws! The other surefire hit song. Only prudes and depraved, in-denial Republican Senators don't sing along to this absolute classic about sexual freedom. Let me your chaperone / to the halfway home / I'm a full grown man / but I'm not afraid to cry-y-y-y-y is one of my all-time favorite lyrics.
When Beck was but a wee youngin' in 1994, he dropped not one, not two, but Three albums. And out of those albums, only one track made the radio. Mighty Good Leader is not that song. It's an acoustic sneery dirge off of One Foot In The Grave that's actually a cover of a Skip Jones blues song. I think early folk Beck is important, but not enough that anyone should be forced to listen to a whole album of it. But this is one of two songs from that era that I absolutely love.
Then we get back to the bloop bleep fun part with Pressure Zone, a song I never paid much attention to from the original Midnite Vultures album but which I find much stronger than some of the songs I used to know all the lyrics to.
I don't know how I managed to leave Golden Age off of Mutations, but I actually like that it was available to pop onto this album. It's a classic downtempo Beck ballad, and it's nice to have one well-produced ballad to mix in with the fuzz mantras, the bloopy bleep pop, and the acoustic doldrums.
I'll feed you fruit that don't exist / I'll leave graffiti / Where you've never been kissed / I'll do your laundry / Massage your soul / I'll turn you over / To the highway patrol. I love Nicotine & Gravy. I can't explain why.
Another fun song that I absolutely adore is the Sex Bob-omb anthem Garbage Truck, which doesn't at all remind me of that time I got caught in a couch.
Peaches & Cream is a song that falls somehwere between "Debra" and "Nicotine & Gravy", so I've edited it down to just the first verse because I didn't want to entirely lose the way Beck shouts Peaches and creeeeeeeeam!
The first time I heard Beck's Asshole*, it was being covered by Tom Petty on the She's The One Soundtrack. I love both versions equally.
Closing out the album is another Sex Bob-omb song. There are two versions of Ramona on the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack but I prefer the more orchestral version that appears here. It's a sweet little lament for a truly magical girl.
* - If you hold Beck's Asshole to your ear, you can hear Rick James singing the chorus to Sexx Laws