Driving home from dropping my brother off one summer afternoon in 1996, the radio DJ came on the local alternative station and announced the premiere of the new Beck single. The next thing I knew, I was hearing “Where It’s At” for the first time, and my mind is getting blown.
Obviously, I was way familiar with “Loser,” and thanks to some friends making trips to the local college town to snag One Foot in the Grave, I knew Beck could do a little bit more than just slacker hip-hop, but sweet merciful Jesus, the instant that song kicked on, I was more than just a casual fan. It’s the sort of song that can absolutely change an artist’s career, because it built on that familiar white-boy hip-hop of “Loser,” but tightened up the sound and got it bigger and louder.
Odelay was a series of amazing singles — “Where It’s At,” not the least of them — but as good as “Devil’s Haircut” and “The New Pollution” are, it’s the non-singles that really shine. For real: how weird are the non-singles? The hip-hop blues of “Hotwax,” with its high school Spanish chorus, is probably the pinnacle of the deep cuts. The bassline on “Minus” is so absolutely sick that it’s the highlight of the album, dropping what’s essentially a Fugazi riff alongside xylophone accents, creating a post-punk dance party, only to collapse in on itself as the song ends.
Revisiting this record after decades of alt-rock radio play, it’s refreshing to know that everything still stands up. The singles have been ran into the ground, and lord knows I never need to hear “Devil’s Haircut” again, but “Jack-Ass” is like a revelation. That swimming, relaxed mood provides a glimpse into what Beck would do on his follow-up, Mutations, and the switch-up from what is — at its heart — a blues record still feels as fresh as it did 20 years ago. Start to finish, this is a record which stands the test of time. Much like Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, or RZA as Bobby Digital, this is the sort of music to which most musicians have yet to catch up to.
Normally, I’m not a turntable snob, but drop a good stylus on this record. We have two players in our house, and while the basic Sony does a decent job, the way this sounds on a good Numark with a high-end stylus is amazing. The separation on Odelay is insane. It’s so crisp and so clean. This is a perfect headphone record.
The art print by Scott Hill is probably my favorite one since beginning this review series, and might actually be one I’d put up on my wall. It’s classy and minimalist. The gigantic, LP-sized reproduction of the CD booklet make for a nicely rounded package, as well. The bourbon-colored vinyl is gorgeous, looking just as good as it sounds. The standard jacket is a little wobbly for as heavy as the LP is, but it’s good enough.
Per usual for a Vinyl Me, Please pressing, there’s a cocktail recipe that I won’t make, because it requires buying some oddball ingredients which cost too much and have limited use. Chartreuse and Lillet Blanc? Something using what I have on hand would be nice for once. Throwing in a nice big “Jack-Ass” sticker that looks like it would’ve easily adorned my notebook in high school is a cool touch.