Funky, Futuristic Beck Channels Cosmic Debris

Beck is in the studio recording a follow-up to 'Mellow Gold,' the album that brought us "Loser"

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Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Beck at McCabe's Guitar Store on December 8th, 1993 in Santa Monica, California.
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This is where I record most of my stuff – right here by the front door," says Beck, standing in the entryway of his producers' pink stucco home atop Los Angeles' Silver Lake Hills. "That way, if the delivery guy comes up, I don't need to stop. I can just pay, [sings] 'How much for the spaghetti?' – and it works right into the song."

The album Beck is making is the highly anticipated follow-up to last year's Mellow Gold, or the "Loser" album, which took the oddball artist from avant-garde obscurity to MTV stardom. But just because Beck nearly upstaged Michael Jackson in the relevance department, don't expect the 25-year-old to assume some prominent mantle of importance. Instead the skinny Angeleno is concocting songs titled "Novocain Express" and "Devil's Haircut" – the logical step in a six-year career filled with works like "MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack" and "Telepathic Astro-manure."

The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Beck, "Loser"

"I've had a couple of album-title ideas but nothing definitive," says Beck, who speaks in a slow, measured deadpan and sports a wide-eyed, I-am-not-of-this-world stare. "At one point I was gonna call it Robot Jazz 'cause, you know, just the concept of machines being spontaneous? Anyway, nothing else. It's just something that will come to me. Maybe I'll call it Mellow Tinfoil."

In the small den that serves as the technical part of the studio, one wall is lined with hundreds of records, another with mixing boards and turntables. Beck pops in a tape of songs he has been writing and producing during the past year with studio owners John King and Michael Simpson, a.k.a. the Dust Brothers (a team that has worked with the Beastie Boys and Tone Loc). The music is an odd, natural mesh of cheesy, futuristic synth effects, Eastern mantras, shorting amps and '70s-style R&B grooves. It's the most cohesive and catchy mutation to date of Beck's cut-and-paste style.

Most of the music is performed by Beck and his cohorts, but there are a few lifted samples: harmonized shoobie-doos from a cut-rate King Family called the Murks and an unidentified old school rapper encouraging women in the audience to yell out the names of their favorite bluejeans designers ("Say Sergio Valente!"). It's all accented by lop-sided Beckian wordplay.

"I don't think my music's weird," says Beck, who expects his album to come out this spring. "There's a fine line between being weird and trying to be weird. I just improvise and use the first thing that comes to mind. If I spend a couple weeks writing something, it lacks life. It doesn't have any of the needed mistakes." But now every normal goon is trying to muscle into freak turf. "Weird is happening in the '90s. It's a genre. But the '90s are getting too weird, so in the last two years I've been heading toward normal. That's gonna be the next radical thing. Soon normalcy will be the edge."

Beck picks up a potential source of more bizarre inspiration – an old album called Music for Sensuous Lovers – and puts it on the turntable. A woman's rehearsed moans and groans echo over electronic chirps that make a calculator seem sophisticated. "Side 1 is 'Climax 1,' and Side 2 is 'Climax 2,' " Beck says. "But the best thing is the music. It's just the sickest Casio-made stuff you've ever heard." He pauses, looking almost scientifically intrigued. "Maybe that's what I'll call my album: The Sensuous Casio."

This story is from the December 14th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 723: December 14, 1995