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Mellow Gold (DGC)
By Bob Bahr
If there are such things as slackers, and if these people are really as aimless, lazy and unambitious as the media is describing them, than Beck is their Bob Dylan.
Let's keep things in perspective. Keep in mind that a true slacker would not have particularly high standards for their grass roots spokesperson. Beck, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, is no Bob Dylan.
But he is a man with an original, unusual vision. Mellow Gold is an odd blend of folk, alternative rock on the Primus tip, some turgid hard rock and a dash of hip-hop. That segment of the population who thinks Dylan's voice is funny should try wandering through Beck's electronically distorted growl. And anyone who can't imagine stoner folk music should dial up "Nitemare Hippy Girl," a not entirely flattering portrait of a slacker girl. It is here, along with the hit single "Loser," that Beck's talent for writing hooks is apparent. Beck's songs, rather than just being stripped down into acoustic versions of the songs, are stripped then built back up with woozy vocal effects and distorted guitars. "Mutherfer," for example, is as heavy as "Blackhole" is sweet and droning, complete with violin and a mantra-like vocal line. Beck has heard My Bloody Valentine before, and he's schooled in lush progressive rock and its manifestation in heavier groups like Led Zeppelin.
First and foremost, Beck is a songwriter. An exploration of his free-association lyrics should start with "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)," if for no other reason than his voice is the clearest there. "Tonight the city is full of morgues/And all the toilets are overflowing/And shopping malls coming out of the walls/As we walk out among the manure," he sings in the first verse. "Give the finger to the rock 'n' roll singer/As he's dancing upon your paycheck/The sales climb high through the garbage pail sky/Like a giant dildo crushing the sun," he adds in the second verse. He later takes a harmonica solo.
In 1994, that's what it takes to provoke controversy. The times, they certainly are a-changin'.
"Fin With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)" follows with a decidedly psychedelic '60s sound and a twisted take on the sound of choruses in the forgotten mainstream of pop rock. Scoring high on the Mischievous Scale, this cut is the abnormally accessible it's clear what Beck is skewering. The Deep Purple-heavy guitar of "Soul Suckin Jerk" marches along with the plodding drums, producing a trippy brand of burdened funk that could play well in both dance clubs and alternative dives. The groove of "Beercan" is a cross between industrial and country boogie. Believe it, just as you believe Beck's searing insight, which must cut through a hazy room of disheveled music.
It's nearly impossible to dislike this record. Beck writes hooks that are so relaxed and ingratiating, a nation of granola-eating, nicotine-stained neo-hippies are his for the taking. If a couple cuts didn't strike you wrong, Beck wouldn't be doing his job well. Even a slacker can push the envelope.