Odelay - Deluxe Edition

On his early records, Beck made it all sound so easy, people fell for the idea he wasn't trying very hard. He was happy to play the role of a musical innocent — just a blond surfer-poet dude with a guitar and a dazed grin, the happy-go-lucky Snoopy to Kurt Cobain's Charlie Brown. Now that he's matured, and revealed in his music what a misery goat he is, we can appreciate how much imagination went into Odelay. After his 1994 indie single "Loser" accidentally crashed the mainstream, Beck realized he liked it up there and decided to ham it up with a shameless pop record. So for Odelay, he hooked up with the Dust Brothers to play around with punk, hip-hop, acoustic folk, bossa nova, Latin soul, mainstream R&B and line-dance country — there's as much Babyface as Bob Dylan on this record, and as much Billy Ray Cyrus as Biz Markie. The grooves are so funny, Beck had fans rolling in the aisle before he opened his mouth.

On this two-disc deluxe edition, the greatest moments still come from the original album: "Where It's At," "Jack-Ass," "Lord Only Knows," "Hotwax." But the rarities and B sides are so good, they'd add up to Beck's third- or fourth- best album on their own. "Electric Music and the Summer People" is one of his best; "Gold Chains" and "Inferno" are worthy outtakes; "Burro" has the album's best song, "Jack-Ass," sung in Spanish with a mariachi band. It flows into a summary of Nineties rock & roll wiseassery, a sonic version of the sensibility that would turn into Johnny Knoxville and Owen Wilson. "Hotwax" was never a hit, but it still sounds like Beck's theme, because it means (among other things) stolen music — the sound of a very shrewd kid stealing his way onto the radio like a burglar in broad daylight.

From The Archives Issue 1045: February 7, 2008