photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to BECK was his iconic grocery store-themed "WHERE IT'S AT?" video that i saw at a NEW JERSEY relative's house in the summer of 1996 on MTV. my family was on vacation at the time and packing up supplies for my second year living in NIGERIA. so it was a weird time. that was also the summer i discovered RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GARBAGE and METALLICA as a teenager.
what makes ODELAY (DGC, 1996) so great is partly due to its INNOVATIVE production, overseen by THE DUST BROTHERS. it utilized found sound, classic HIP HOP breaks, MUZAK and basically anything and everything evocative and earworm-y into a POST MODERN blend. it was pure DADA in that it seemingly referenced everything yet paradoxically transcended such contextual limitations. at the time i was unfamiliar with the great HIP HOP tradition of sampling which effectively re-contextualized one's record collection into a new hybrid sound that at its most ADVENTEROUS defied genre and showcased a compositional prowess for creating new musical structures with no maps. ODELAY was not THE DUST BROTHERS first crack at this technique, as famously they had overseen the BEASTIE BOYS' INVENTIVE and ahead-of-its-time PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) half a decade beforehand, tirelessly contributing to the dizzying heights of that record which remains a high watermark for entire form to date; FYI i'd similarly throw PRINCE PAUL's production on DE LA SOUL's THREE FEET HIGH AND RISING (TOMMY BOY, 1989) in the mix as well.
BECK, whose family has its roots in the TRANSGRESSIVE FLUXUS movement of the previous generation, was a perfect avatar for this aesthetic as he had no qualms about mixing high and low culture, commercial and underground music as well as any and every variety of genre into an impossibly cohesive album. key tracks include "DEVIL'S HAIRCUT," "HOTWAX," "THE NEW POLLUTION," "READYMADE," "WHERE IT'S AT?" and "DERELICT" which are all completely nonsensical in the fine lyrical tradition of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, TINY TIM and FRANK ZAPPA yet have an EMOTIVE OPAQUENESS to them that belies a tender sense of ISOLATION and SOCIAL RETICENCE that many friends that were acolytes picked up on.
at the time ODELAY felt very of-the-moment as suburban kids like myself didnt feel as defined by genre as they had maybe ten years before during the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK era of the 1980s. kids i knew growing up listened to HIP HOP, METAL, PUNK, NEW WAVE and the omnipresent SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene with equal gusto. for a moment in the 1990s experimental ELECTRONIC MUSIC (DAFT PUNK, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS) was in the mix as well.
in some respect ODELAY lay the foundation for everything BECK did afterwards. the rest of his catalogue is a seeming series of genre exercises that showcased his AUTHENTIC appreciation and internalization of the myriad of tropes associated with FUNK (MIDNIGHT VULTURES), TROPICALIA (MUTATIONS) and LAUREL CANYON FOLK / COUNTRY (SEA CHANGE, MORNING PHASE), SYNTH POP (HYPERSPACE), LO-FI INDIE ROCK (MODERN GUILT) among numerous returns to his trademark pastiche style (THE INFORMATION, GUERO, COLORS).
in my estimation ODELAY is a seminal 1990s album on par in terms of immediate impact and enduring cultural cache with the likes of NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991), WU-TANG CLAN's ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS) (LOUD, 1993), RADIOHEAD's OK COMPUTER (CAPITOL, 1997), GREEN DAY's DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) and A TRIBE CALLED QUEST's THE LOW END THEORY (JIVE, 1991) among others. it is required listening and worthy of countless repeat listens. like those other albums, its almost fun to consider similarly sounding records that came thereafter. such is its greatness.