Beck first entered the ears of most of the mainstream public through his unintentional "voice of a generation" anthem, "Loser," from the multi-platinum
Mellow Gold. Originally released on his own Bong Load Records, he was soon signed to Geffen with a Wellesian (Orson, that is) stipulation in his contract. In between his major-label releases, he would be allowed to have less commercial works released on smaller labels (an example being his bluesy
One Foot in the Grave carried by K records).
After the major success of
Odelay and its hit single "Where It's At," Beck began working on what was to be simply another small-label album. However, another of the stipulations of that contract was that Geffen have first listen to any new album and make their own decision as to commerciality. They decided to release
Mutations themselves. That's how good it is.
Beck's influences are all over the map. Everything from folk to rock to country to hip-hop, Arabic and Indian, and Latin touches leave their footprints on this album. A sitar literally envelopes "Nobody's Fault but My Own," his country roots show on "Sing it Again" and "Canceled Check," and "Tropicalia" swims with Latin influence. Others are harder to peg exactly because Beck is not generally satisfied with a simple song. After working with the Dust Brothers on
Odelay, Beck has become a student of layering. Each song has its own strange sounds hidden just below the surface that give it texture.
Any instrument is fair game to be included, as is just about any electronic sound effect. "Tropicalia" is a veritable sea of these experimental noises, but to great effect. It is my favorite song -- well, one of them. It's easier to choose the ones that aren't my favorites ("We Live Again," "Dead Melodies," "Static"). There are so many achievements on
Mutations that it becomes difficult to choose one over the other as they are so different. And just when you think you know what he's doing, Beck will surprise you with a simple guitar, bass, and drums piece like "Bottle of Blues" that makes you want to boogie. So, he does know when to leave well enough alone.
Mutations is obviously just a step in the evolution of a great artist. He has become one of my favorite artists because he is always experimenting with forms, interchanging seemingly incompatible styles, and often coming up roses. I look forward to each new album and especially wonder what new things we can expect from him in his maturity.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2002. Reprinted with permission.
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