Read my reviews of Beck albums:
1993: Golden Feelings (???)
I have only listened to this once, I think. It’s very unpolished, to put it mildly.
Beck albums from 1994:
Stereopathic Soulmanure (???)
Like the debut, I’ve only listened to this once and never reviewed it.
Mellow Gold (9/10)
I don’t think this record was supposed to happen. If it was, it wasn’t supposed to be a hit. And that doesn’t make sense. Because the whole thing doesn’t really make sense. Deliberately lo-fi “slacker” roots music married to hip hop production (with a little rap thrown in) and bunch of other stuff thrown in. It doesn’t make any sense.
But there’s no denying it works. Even if Beck’s lyrics at this early point in his career were more than a little hipper-than-thou, everything else works wonderfully. Beck basically created his own version of alternative rock here as there really wasn’t anything else (this commercially successful) that sounded anything like it.
And it’s been incredibly influential too. Think about the number of “bedroom” records that have been released since that owe something to this record.
A classic. My #5 album of 1994.
One Foot in the Grave (???)
Beck’s surprise folk-blues album is something I’ve only listened to once or twice but the first proof he wasn’t just a cut-up artist.
1996: Odelay (9/10)
In some ways we can see this as just a way, way more polished version of Mellow Gold, that is if we wanted to be reductionist. Not knowing the rest of his oeuvre at the time (he was constantly releasing other records), we might think he’s a one trick pony.
But this is a stronger set of songs than Mellow and the production is not only more “polished” but less frantic and insane. It’s still frantic, but it feels professional in a way that the first album did not.
That could be a bad thing, but Beck has honed his post-modern aesthetic here, so instead the polish is an asset. The record feels more mature, more of a coherent statement than just throwing stuff at the wall.
Sometimes I like this more than the first one, sometimes I don’t.
My #2 album of 1996. Read my reviews of 1996 albums.
1998: Mutations (7/10)
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 Morning Phase.
Midnite Vultures (7/10)
I really like Beck. You might say I love Beck, or at least Beck’s mainstream records from ’90s and early ’00s. (I have slowly become less of a fan, over the years.) And I’d like to think I also really enjoy listening to musicians I enjoy having a great time, though I don’t know if that’s actually true or not. (I’d like to think so.) But there is a huge shadow hanging over this record which keeps me from enjoying it as much as everyone else.
Beck has always literally worn his influences on his sleave on his genre-mash-up records. That’s sort of the point – he combines a bunch of disparate things in new ways. The clear influences on different parts of his music never bothered me on those earlier record, perhaps in part because I didn’t know what they were, but I’d like to think it was because his combination of these disparate things was extremely unique for the era.
But here, there is one influence I hear more than others, dominating many of the songs, and that’s Prince. I can’t say I ever noticed his influence on Mellow Gold or Odelay, though that could be because I heard those record before I ever listened to a Prince album. That’s not to say Prince is everywhere on this album, but just that he’s a (very) noticeable influence, where at times I feel like I’m listening to a Prince-imitator rather than Beck.
Fortunately, that is not all the time. Moreover, Beck and his band are having so much fun, that my initial resistance to the record has been eroded with subsequent listens. And, because this is a Beck record, there is just an absolute ton of stuff happening in every track, meaning that there’s always something grabbing your attention.
I still think this is the most clearly derivative record Beck has ever made (to the best of my music knowledge). Though it still sounds like Beck, I think it’s the only Beck album I’ve ever heard where I’ve spent at least part of the time thinking about how much it sounds like someone else. And that’s why I can’t get more excited about it. But it’s clear they are enjoying themselves and it’s infectious.
2002: Sea Change (9/10)
Not only is this a left turn into more conventional arrangements than his previous albums, but this is Beck’s best set of songs. (Seriously, what competes with this?) Sure, he’s gone full on singer-songwriter to an extent (I believe) he never did before, but the songs are so strong, as are the (relatively) conventional arrangements, that this makeover is completely, utterly plausible. Moreover, it’s more appealing (to me) than much if not most of his overtly po-mo music.
It’s my favourite album of his, even if that’s a rather ridiculous thing to say, given how unlike the rest of his oeuvre it is.
My #3 album of 2002. Read my reviews of 2002 albums.
2005: Guero (7?/10)
For some reason I’ve never written a review of this album. I’m pretty sure I had it on CD at one point.
2006: The Information (8/10)
To me this feels like the most typical of later or mature Beck. It’s a little more restrained – polished – than his early releases but this uptempo pop rock (married to hip hop style production) is certainly more common than the balladry of Sea Change. Everything here is very strong and, as I said, though his idiosyncrasy is reigned in from the ’90s, there’s still enough going around that songs that might otherwise be pretty run of the mill sound interesting.
As an aside, I got the opportunity this version of his band live on TV through some concert show or other, and they were really solid.
2008: Modern Guilt (8/10)
Too short, but otherwise I like it. I have this thing with short albums. I can’t help feeling sort of ripped off. But what’s here is good.
2023: A very lazy “review.”
2014: Morning Phase (7/10)
Beck and the critics both seem to agree this is some kind of spiritual sequel to Sea Change. Now, I’m not sure I would have set what I’m going to say had I not read that, but I suspect I would have.
To my ears the shadow of Sea Change hangs over this record to such an extent that it is distracting. Beck had never made another record like it and, for me, it was my favourite for that reason. I appreciate Beck’s other tendencies and think they’re what makes him great. But I also loved that he had gone and made this chamber pop record, and done such an excellent job. I know all the songs on that record better than I know the songs on basically any other record of his. Sure, it’s not representative of his oeuvre but it may be his most consistent, near-perfect record.
And, to me, this is a pale imitation. Maybe that will change with time, as I come to know the songs better and better. But right now what I hear is a weaker set of songs, some of which appear to almost callback to the previous record, full of arrangements that really do callback to that record.
Everything about this feels like such a conscious echo of Sea Change. I wonder if I would have heard that had I not read too many reviews and interviews. But I do feel like it was going to happen. It’s hard to imagine listening to this and not hearing sub-Sea Change given how little the rest of Beck’s catalogue sounds like this.
My hope is that one day I will grow to like it more.
2017: Colors (???)
I have only listened to this once or twice and I have yet to write a review. Read my reviews of music from 2017.
2019: Hyperspace (???)
I think I have only listened to this once. Read my few reviews of 2019 albums.