Friday, 10 December 2010

Beck - 'Odelay'

The first thing you notice about this record is that it's super-heavyweight vinyl - audiophile 180gm, or something. It gives the impression of quality and, dare I say, phatness before the needle ever touches the groove.

Beck Hanson is essentially a surrealist artist. His musical career was something of an accident, catapulted as he was into the mainstream by the single 'Loser'. The rest of that album, 'Mellow Gold' - we'll be getting to that at some point - is a whimsical, downbeat set of doodles that wouldn't have seen the light of day without the chart-crushing juggernaut of 'Loser'.

'Odelay' is the sound of a white boy finding his dancing feet, releasing the funk, and cutting a fiery swathe across an indie dancefloor. The classic surrealist trademarks are all here - unusual juxtapositions, dreams made real, a strange hallucinatory quality pervading everything - and yet this is surrealist art you can dance to. It has a musically timeless quality to it that means it could be anywhere from Sgt. Pepper to the present day.

What does it remind me of? It reminds me of seeing Beck live at Leeds Festival in (I think) 2000. He wasn't quite at the peak of his powers, but there was a feeling that, as he boogied manically in front of 20,000 people, he couldn't put a foot wrong. He evoked the spirit of David Byrne in 'Stop Making Sense', which is a must-see gig-movie. He epitomised coolness, was slightly deranged, and was backed by DJ Swamp, who performed the most deck-defying feats of vinyl manipulation I'd ever seen. A year later, I found the 'DJ Swamp Skip-Proof Scratch Tool', and I was sold on the way of the wicky-wicky.

I'm not sure that Beck ever got any better than this, but crucially, he never got much worse either.


  1. I prefer Modern Guilt as a package, but there's something about this album that I keep coming back to. No idea what yet, perhaps it's just the manic boogies it sends me into in the kitchen?!

  2. Fletch - it is an unnaturally funky album, for sure.

  3. I'd agree about Modern Guilt - great when someone you assume ought to have lost it by now does something fantastic.

    Zak, it was V97 - Beck was between the Foo Fighters and headliners The Prodigy. Here's DJ Swamp's solo (although he way in daylight when we saw him).