Beck’s Odelay is pure 1990s southern
I can’t help listen to Odelay and be reminded of some of the cultural landscape that pervaded the decade. Movies that immediately come to mind are Get Shorty and A Life Less Ordinary, flicks set in
The mention of these sensory and cultural links is merely to demonstrate how Odelay seems distinctly set in a place and a time. That is not to say, however, that the music is dated and tarnished some 10+ years after its first original release. In fact, the album possesses a unique energy and an ever-changing internal identity that makes the music coquettishly elusive, yet ultimately attractive. Its leftfield antics and mind-bending lyricism, all within a broad socially acceptable domain (i.e. without the dangers of actual drug consumption or delinquent acts), certainly give the music a unique and lingering charm that invites repeated listens.
When Odelay was first released, I was passively aware of the music. “Where It’s At” was played ad naseum on radio and in live TV performances. Other tracks got plenty of airplay and the album was a hit among many friends and acquaintances. For some reason – probably because I was cynical of the hipsterness set on a large audience scale – I intentionally ignored the album. Listening to it now, I can’t help but be rather impressed and disappointed that I didn’t give it a fair chance back in the day.
Sure, it’s hard not to take notice of the massive production trickery that go into several of the songs and that give them an amusingly schizo feel. But, it’s the seemingly more straightforward parts in other songs – the countrified slide guitar on “Lord Only Knows” and the chorus of “Sissyneck”, the repetitive funky beat and Doors-esque organ on “The New Pollution”, the languid gait of the guitar on “Jack-ass”, the folksy “Ramshackle” – that give the album that extra edge and credibility, that is, the conviction that this stream-of-consciousness mumbling singer actually knows what he is doing and has some soul. These more straightforward elements no doubt feed the sterling production on Beck’s just as impressive Mutations album.
Does it matter that I have no idea what the hell the guy is saying? Not at all. Sure, I guess trying to decipher the lyrics could be somewhat annoying for those that value the words. I, on the other hand, usually consider lyrics in a secondary fashion, only considering them once I have determined the value or attractiveness of the music. In the case of Odelay, I am definitely attracted, which should lead to some consideration of the words. But, you know, when it is this fun listening to the sounds and feel of an album, the guy could be talking about apple strudel and bird watching, for all I care.
So, some 10+ years after Odelay’s original favorable impression on the pop and rock landscape, it is still pretty easy to see why this album is considered one of the more important albums of the decade.