photo & text by nacrowe
with MIDNITE VULTURES (DGC, 1999), its hard to discern whether gifted songwriter / cultural chameleon BECK is parodying 70s/80s FUNK and R&B (a la PRINCE) or lionizing it. case in point is the song "DEBRA" which finds him coyly crooning and then wailing away with his impressive falsetto about his feelings towards a woman and her sister, whom he think is named, well, Debra. its so ridiculous yet virtuosically performed that it really walks that line. its also my favorite song on the album. to this day i cant discern whether it is pastiche or parody and maybe that ambiguity is the point.
other standout tracks such as "BROKEN TRAIN," "GET REAL PAID," "SEXX LAWS," "NICOTINE & GRAVY" and "MIXED BUSINESS" all utilize the synth lines, gated reverb, clipped percussion and synth pad textures that make the genre such a sonically pleasurable experience. it is a fun record that seems less concerned with the pastiche techniques utilized in his universally celebrated ODELAY (DGC, 1996) record and more directly interested in exploring the sonic oeuvre of classic FUNK from ZAPP and LAKESIDE to PARLIAMENT and the THE GAP BAND with a healthy bit of AL GREEN, LIONEL RITCHIE and BOBBY WOMACK thrown in the mix. at least that is what i hear.
this record is basically the answer to the question "what would a PRINCE record sound like if BECK made it?" it makes sense to me that he could pull it off given his staggering gift for songwriting and mercurial persona. and that core identity as a songwriter is what makes his discography so interesting, irregardless of genre or recording techniques, however experimental. this is his FUNK record, but he shines just as brightly in a FOLK or HIP HOP context.
i first heard this record when it came out. at the time i was in boarding school in NEW ENGLAND and like most things i was exposed to during that period, i had no context for understanding it. at 15 i wasnt familiar with the pioneering DUST BROTHERS pastiche production innovations found within the BEASTIE BOYS' PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) record, much less classic FUNK. i just knew it sounded energetic, fresh, idiosyncratic and above all else, fun.
and that is pretty much why i still go back to this record. its just fun. its definitely worth revisiting and pays dividends for those seeking experimental audiophile easter eggs and classic pop hooks alike. recommended highly.