90s score: 8.5/10
Today’s score: 10/10
Beck, the master of reinvention. I decree that no artist rides the fence between reinvention and staying true to their sound as well as the perdedor himself. On 1996’s Odelay, Beck is fully immersed in 90s sampling, lo-fi alternative and just enough nerdism to make one of the absolute coolest albums of the decade.
Whether you stick with the hits or dig deeper into this record, there’s something to discover on each and every listen, a veritable Russian doll of funk, hip hop, indie, rock, electronic… I could go on but I feel like I’m spewing. “Where It’s At” is the tour de force on Odelay, so I’ll just say that as he did with “Loser,” Beck has created an anthem for the entire decade; a track so fucking cool its lame and vice versa. Prophetic sampling, an unforgettable chorus and a backline drum and bass groove that has parents and children alike vibing. Do you want a more hard-rocking, straight forward alternative radio anthem? “Devils Haircut” and “The New Pollution” have your back. I have little doubt in my mind that Beck could write an entire album of three-minute hooky tracks like these and still bust out one of the albums of the decade, but that’s not Beck’s MO; a taste of this genre, a little flavouring of another, it’s almost as if Beck is just demonstrating through each track how adept he is at songwriting and craftsmanship and then like a superhero, he’s gone on to the next genre.
Further wizardry, Beck delves into a softer, acoustically driven indie soundscape on “Jack-Ass” and “Ramshackle.” This is the same guy who was busting out bars and straight-up dropping the funk on “Where It’s At?” These much more vulnerable, moody sequences through Odelay carry as much weight and immediacy as the harder hitting tracks and, forgive me for repeating myself, but Beck could have a classic album on his hands writing twelve to fifteen songs just like these. And if your head is not already spinning enough, there are tracks on Odelay that start to defy categorization. “High 5 (Rock The Catskills)” is sort of a rap/electronic mind fuck, “Hotwax” finds a way to mix country elements with hip hop, “Minus” almost feels like a fucking punk song. Every single track on this record will have you asking yourself “What the fuck did I just listen to?” And you’ll subsequently want to listen to it again and again and again.
Given that it was incredibly hard to process upon release, although instantly recognizable as great material, this album just ages like a fine piece of cheese, umm er wine. It never feels dated yet somehow is decade-defining. Beck you beautiful bastard, never stop doing you.
Written by Lee Ferguson
*Edited by Dominic Abate