Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Skin of a Robot

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Beck, Mutations. Both on his own and with the Dust Bros., Beck had already proven himself a great record-maker, a true genius of cut-up found sound and white-nerd funk, but it was this extraordinary 1998 album that, for me, marked his true debut as a classic American songwriter. The songs feel hand-crafted and nakedly sincere, even as the lyrics sift matter-of-factly through tropes of decay, corrosion, anomie, and assorted dystopia. Yes, there's an unmistakeable ghost of Dylan electricity about the whole exercise, but maybe one of the things I love most about this live-sounding record is that, almost as if to face those comparisons head-on and disarm them, Beck and producer Nigel Godrich seem to have consciously nodded in the direction of Bobby's mid-'60s wild mercury sound (the harmonica, a minor-key piano in the neighborhood of "Thin Man," etc.).

But there's so much more to the record than knockoff and throwback: There's his most substantial and moving Eastern-drone song, "Nobody's Fault," the frisky bossa of "Tropicalia," and above all the sweet sway of 3/4 and 6/8, in which almost half the songs here are set. That exotic-for-pop time signature, plus the beautiful guitar noodling on "Sing It Again," has often put me in mind of another essential American album: Willie Nelson's plucky Redheaded Stranger. Heady company, but that's exactly the shelf on which Beck at his best belongs.

Tom Salamon I am loving these posts. As soon as you post about an album that I'm not familiar with I'll listen right away - so far everything you've chosen falls right into my territory of important albums (although Sea Change is his masterpiece). Just so you know lines like "...ghost of Dylan electricity") are not lost on me. Great work.
Rob Weinert-Kendt Thanks, Tom! Gotta admit I'm a SEA CHANGE skeptic; I kind of agree with a friend who compares it (not favorably) to Dan Fogelberg. But if you say so maybe I'll have to give it another chance.
Tom Salamon YOU HAVE NO SOUL. It's his Blood On The Tracks. One of the top three breakup albums of all time.

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