1988, Music

Mutations (1998) by Beck

I can imagine that, had I paid attention to Beck more when he first became popular, and only heard Mellow Gold and Odelay, and not his earlier “anti folk” records, this record might have knocked me on my ass. In retrospect it has far more in common with Sea Change than it does those records (and makes Sea Change seem like far less of a – pardon me – sea change), and feels much of the time like a career departure.

Beck is revealed here as someone who can write actual conventional songs, rather than relying on samples and production to make his tunes compelling. (I’m not saying he did that, but I have read the criticism.) I have never heard his early records but, given their reputation, I imagine they’re not as clear indications as this that he’s actually a real, honest to goodness songwriter.

The arrangements are very, very different, for the most part, than his two big hit records. They are still pretty dense, though usually they feature played instruments rather than samples and edited sections. But this is the area where the record doesn’t completely work for me as he doesn’t quite have the courage of his convictions and he does sort of revert to his old style – in songwriting if not in terms of production – on a few tracks. These tracks feel completely out of place to me compared to the rest of the record and I think the record would have been better had he dropped them.

But, on the whole, I quite like this record (as I quite like this side of Beck). It’s far from his best work, either on his folk side or his avant rock side, but it’s got a good set of songs and the arrangements, though busy, feel appropriate more often than not. Certainly very much your time if you are a fan of Sea Change or Colors.


Read my reviews of albums released in 1998 or why not check out my reviews of all Beck albums?

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