When Beck burst into the national consciousness two years ago, a coltish man-boy posing the puzzling, if amusing, challenge ”I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me,” many self-styled citizens of the alternative nation wrote him off as a one-hit wonder. But anyone who gave the rest of 1994’s wildly eclectic Mellow Gold an open-minded listen knows that Beck Hansen is no novelty-tune phony.
For Odelay, his second major-label outing (since Mellow Gold he has released two discs on indie labels), Beck has enlisted the Dust Brothers, the producers responsible for the smorgasbord of tasty, left-field samples on the Beastie Boys’ seminal Paul’s Boutique. The result: a pastiche of twangy country licks, hip-hop beats, surrealistic folk, jive-turkey rap, and samples (from Tchaikovsky to the Frogs) that further affirms Beck’s rock-chameleon identity.
Beck’s got a lot going for him beyond his wide-ranging musical interests. Primary among his virtues is an ever-present sense of humor: Without straying into Weird Al territory, he imbues his lyrics with a healthy sense of the absurd — something almost entirely lacking in rock today. ”I got a stolen wife and a rhinestone life, and some good old boys/I’m writing my will on a three-dollar bill,” he sings in ”Sissyneck,” the finest of his many country-funk inventions. Ultimately, what holds all Beck’s work together is his arch, whacked-out street poetry. Whether reminiscing about a rough-hewn club (”A place we saw, the lights turned low/With the jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow”) or philosophizing about settling down (”I dropped my anchor in the dead of night/Unpacked my suitcase and threw it away”), Beck maintains a perfect balance of hip disaffectedness and depth of feeling. And that’s why he’s no loser, baby. A-