Beck (1996)

As many of these 90s choices attest to, the decade was a cultural melting pot, as well as a time to look back and comment on the history of rock and recontextualize it with a modern approach. Irony and postmodernism were prevalent, and lax, self-deprecating attitudes were the new style. Beck is perhaps the pinnacle of these characteristics, and his gimmick of endless reinvention summarizes the chameleonic, aesthetically superficial nature of the era.

He was so steadfast about being irreverent and absurd that it almost became a serious motivation. He was so multifaceted and diverse that it was nearly an inescapable pattern. He was so derivative and mindful of past styles and artists that his trickery seemed somehow new. Beck was the paradox of the pre-internet age, when art and culture was just beginning to turn into a self-annihilating blender of pastiche, reference, and “meta”-ness.

What gets overlooked is how consistent he was. This is probably his most well-known album, but nearly all of them are very enjoyable. In the 90s, he was the innovative outcast who wasn’t beholden to any scene or style. By the 2000s, this would become the mission statement for many bands as they struggled to innovate and stay afloat in an increasingly competitive, backstabbing industry. To me, Mr. Hansen represents this appreciative acceptance and retooling of rock history, aided by some simple and hummable melodies and a restless persona.

Although Odelay isn’t the Byzantine monstrosity of intertwining samples I expected (and was sorely disappointed by the reality), the samples he does use are really weird, cool and well chosen. He integrates them perfectly, and there’s no official listing of them that I can find, so perhaps there are still a few hidden in there. Either way, the sample was another hallmark of the digital 90s that Beck excelled at. 

Key track: “The New Pollution”

See also: Midnite Vultures – Beck (1999), Guero – Beck (2005), The Information – Beck (2006), Modern Guilt – Beck (2008) 

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