Thursday, November 23, 2006
"I could write a song - with real words, not phony ones like 'Odelay'."

Needs a new Rhyming Becktionary

I think everyone's forgotten, but Beck brought out a new album this year. It was called The Information and probably the most interesting thing about it is that it came with DIY artwork; if you cared enough to buy the record, you could make your own album art out of the free stickers. I've only heard the music, so I missed out on this record's most enjoyable feature.

Beck - New Round
Beck - Diamond Dogs

Beck's most recent two records have been extraordinarily dull; I'm not saying anything new by noting that Guero saw him repeating himself for the first time, but I'm not saying anything inaccurate by mentioning it again. The entire point of Beck was that he was a crazy-ass guy who'd try anything to make weird, catchy pop music. Guero was just Beck trying to be Beck and, as a result, making rather dull pop music. But it doesn't have to be this way. Let's take a look at where Beck can go from here.

The only track from The Information that I have on regular rotation is "New Round." It's not so much that it does anything different to what Beck has done before, but rather that it does it right. Aside from Beck's junkyard popsmith image, he has his folk trubadour persona - his 21st century Nick Drake aspiration - and that's the Beck behind "New Round." It was the Beck responsible for Sea Change and to some extent Mutations as well. It works fantastically at times, for instance on "Nobody's Fault But My Own," "Golden Age" or (especially) "Lost Cause," but he has never been able to sustain that approach over an entire album.

This is for any number of reasons. "New Round" works in the same way all the best introspective Beck does, using his monotone speak-singing as an advantage, surrounding it with suitably moody production and packing it with enough intricacies and quirks to convey the emotion his voice can't. When it succeeds it can be devastating, sounding like Beck is remaining outwardly stubborn and morose while his inner emotions are projected in glorious technicolor behind him. Unfortunately, it too often does not work. Sometimes the production is focused on novelty when it should be focused on emotion (Has anyone considered that maybe Nigel Godrich isn't actually all that? I know he's part of the whole Radiohead brilliance phenomenon, but his greatness with that band does not necessarily translate to him being able to spin gold from anything handed to him, like, say, The Strokes or Travis). Somtimes Beck's monotone is just boring, rather than an unemotional counterweight, and sometimes Beck's songwriting is not strong enough to stand up without the bleeps and bloops that support his more freewheeling work.

Beck surely has the capacity to produce an album full of songs like "New Round" and "Lost Cause," but it seems unlikely he will ever do so. His strike rate with this style is too low. You could cobble together a good mix tape from his past attempts, but introspection is not Beck's path back to glory. Instead he should be attempting to recapture the thriftstore party atmosphere that made Odelay, Midnite Vultures, and Mellow Gold such enjoyable records. His big mistake with Guero was that he tried to capture the sound, not the spirit.

The solution is so obvious that I'm not sure what the bigger the surprise is: that it's already happened, or that it's only happened once.

Carry the anything goes, futurism-through-foraging mentality of Odelay through to the present day, and whom do you get? Tim Mosley, that's whom. And fair enough, there probably isn't an artist in the world whom I would not consider able to benefit from a Timbaland collaboration, but Beck would be particularly great. You don't even need to consider the contemporary implications; back in 1996, although Beck and Timbaland were operating in vastly different arenas, their approach to music, that is, getting asses shaking by being as weird as fuck, was rather similar. Or in another way: find a Beck a capella from '96 and lay it over Ginuwine's (Timbo-produced) "Pony." You've pretty much got the party mash-up of the century right there.

But you don't need to imagine how great a Beck-Timbaland collabo would be. It's already happened. They did David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs," for that Baz Luhrmann movie that everyone hates, Moulin Rouge (incidentally, I don't get why folks can't deal with the music in that movie. Maybe it's just because I've grown up watching music videos, but I really don't see any disconnect in planting "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the middle of a garish 19th Century Parisian period piece).

"Diamond Dogs" is such an underappreciated high point in the Beck catalogue. For a start, the song is absolutely perfect for him, to the extent that I'm willing to call his version definitive. It was never one of Bowie's most loved songs, anyway, being the lead single off a concept album that never got the love things like Ziggy Stardust or Low did. It even sounds like a Beck song; lyrics like "The diamond dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees," and "In the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch" have the ring of classic Beck nonsense, and the track's steady grind works much better as Beck/Timbo avant garde R&B/rock/pop than Bowie boogie.

Beck needs his freak back, and there's no better than a.k.a Thomas Crown to give it to him. And you can't say Tim wouldn't be interested. Beck would offer all the possibilites a Justin collaboration would and that Timbaland was in discussions with The Rapture shows Mosley could be interested in stepping outside the already rather vast R&B/pop/hip hop umbrella he works under. The Rapture was priced out of contention, even with Tim offering them heavy discounts, but Beck seems to have larger amounts of label money at his disposal; certainly enough to make high concept videos, anyway. I know where I think the dollars could be better spent. In '96, Beck had two turntables and a microphone, and ten years later, he's due back in the club. And the best part is, Timbo knows how to mix clever production with emotional resonance much better than Nigel Godrich. He did it on Nelly Furtado's most recent record, he did it fantastically with Justin, and, oh, yes, there were a few songs with Aaliyah that don't sound too bad. The Mosley-Hansen hook-up would not only let Beck party the way he used to, it would let him cry the way he wants to. And it would also thrill me crossover loving heart to no end. Let's get it happening, guys.

In other news, how much do I want this?

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. Except Ian. Unless he wants it.

Posted by Jonathan on Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 7:51 AM |

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The FunkyFunky 7 Are:
A group of kids with WAY too much time on their hands.