Few Rock songs had the impact of "Loser." Not only was the thrash Rock approach compelling, the lyrics refused to be ignored. "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me." Coming just as Grunge was peaking or about to go over the high side (take your pick) "Loser" struck a receptive chord and became a Gen X anthem. Well, somebody had to do it. As the accompanying "Mellow Gold" album hit the streets Beck was dubbed the "next big thing."
L.A. native Beck was born in '70 with the moniker Beck David Campbell. Growing up in a musical family, Beck dropped the Campbell and took his mother's maiden name, Hansen, after his parents split. Only able to handle public education to the 9th grade, Beck bailed and became immersed in the local Punk-Folk scene. Interestingly, Beck didn't seem poised to become one of the '90s cultural linchpins. Influenced by Blues legend Mississippi John Hurt and Folk great Woody Guthrie, Beck favored acoustic accompaniment for his preachy lyrics, which put him in line to be the 1,312th Bob Dylan clone. Fortunately he was spared this inglorious fate. Gaining local notoriety, Beck met Hip-Hop producer Karl Stephenson. The two collaborated on some indie projects with the song "Loser" catching all the attention. Soon the DCG label tapped Beck.
Beck's music, like L.A., had a "no there, there" quality. It was a synthesis of just about everything that came over the transom. Beck even managed to secure for himself a significant amount of artistic freedom. Namely, CDs that both he and his label felt were "non-commercial" could be released on indie labels. The electronic/experimental (read: clamorous) "Stereopathic Soul Manure" and the Folk oriented "One Foot In The Grave" went the indie route. Fans, and they were numerous, bought it all.
In '96, two years after his major label debut, Beck released "Odelay." With "Where It's At" and the explosive "Devil's Haircut," the CD stands as his best Rock effort. Produced by the Dust Brothers, "Odelay" solidified Beck's icon status. Alienation, the quest for freedom and the desire to set things right - all the old Folkie themes updated and delivered with catchy hooks and driving beats.
The mellower "Mutations" came out in '99 followed by the "all-over-the-board" "Midnite Vultures." The infamous Dust Brothers returned in '05 for "Guero," Beck's sixth major label effort. The next year Beck issued "The Information."
Though released only a year after "Guero," "The Information" reportedly took three years to complete. The "quasi Hip-Hop" set contained the single "Nausea" and peaked at #7 on the Billboard album chart.
By early '08, Beck was working on his next album with the ubiquitous Danger Mouse (Brian Joseph Burton) who had recently produced The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Black Keys. Beck's "Modern Guilt" was issued in July ('08).
Beck provided four songs for the '10 film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ("Ramona," "Garbage Truck," "Threshold" and "Summertime"). But that was, by Beck standards, a bit ordinary. His next idea was intriguing.
What if you wrote an album's worth of songs but didn't recorded them - at least not right away.
That was '12's "Song Reader," which was only available on sheet music. Allowing for some latitude on arrangements, the idea was encourage other musicians to record their own versions of the songs. The concept didn't exactly catch fire so in '13 Beck began playing special "Song Reader" concerts with a variety of guests.
Beck's next effort actually put him in a recording studio. "Morning Phase," a mellow set, dropped in '14. Months later, it won the Best Album and, somewhat surprisingly, Best Rock Album awards at the 57th Grammys (in '15).
With a project like "Song Reader" it was inevitable that the songs would eventually be recorded (just took longer than initially thought). "Warby Parker Presents Song Reader: 20 Songs By Beck," also a '14 release, included tracks by Beck ("Heaven's Ladder"), Fun., Jack White ("I'm Down" sounds like a White Stripes track) and Norah Jones.
1993 Golden Feelings
1994 Stereopathetic Soulmanure
1994 Mellow Gold
1994 One Foot In The Grave
1999 Midnite Vultures
2002 Sea Change
2006 The Information
2008 Modern Guilt
2014 Morning Phase
It all comes down to "Mellow Gold" and "Odelay." These are not purely Rock (or any subset) efforts but they are as close as he comes and as compelling as he gets. That's not to say any of his other adventures don't have good music.
"Mutations" delivers Bossa Nova and Blues while "Midnite Vultures" moves from Hip-Hop to Country.
"The Information" is the usual Beck collection of styles. Many of the songs could find a home on "quality Rock" stations or in your local Starbucks.
Given that "Modern Guilt" is a Beck album produced by Danger Mouse, there are the obvious loops and electronic embellishments. There's also a very accomplished Rock n' Roll record.