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Odelay (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

Unlike Stereopathetic Soul Manure and One Foot in the Grave, the indie albums that followed his debut Mellow Gold by a mere matter of months, Odelay was a full-fledged, full-bodied album, released on a major label in the summer of 1996 and bearing an intricate, meticulous production by the Dust Brothers in their first gig since the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. Odelay shared a similar collage structure to that 1989 masterpiece, relying on a blend of found sounds and samples, but instead of lending the album its primary colors, the Dust Brothers provided the accents, highlighting Beck's ever-changing sounds, tying together his stylistic shifts, making the leaps from the dirge-blues of "Jack-Ass" to the hazy party rock of "Where's It's At" seem not so great. Like Mellow Gold, Odelay winds up touching on a number of disparate strands — folk and country, grungy garage rock, stiff-boned electro, louche exotica, old-school rap, touches of noise rock — but there's no break-neck snap between sensibilities, everything flows smoothly, the dense sounds suggesting that the songs are a bit more complicated than they actually are. Most of the songs here betray Beck's roots as an anti-folk singer — he reworks blues structures ("Devil's Haircut"), country ("Lord Only Knows," "Sissyneck"), soul ("Hotwax"), folk ("Ramshackle") and rap ("High 5 [Rock the Catskills]," "Where It's At") — but each track twists conventions, either in their construction or presentation, giving this a vibrant, electric pulse, surprising in its form and attack. Like a mosaic, all the details add up to a picture greater than its parts, so while some of Beck's best songs are here, Odelay is best appreciated as a recorded whole, with each layered sample enhancing the allusion that came before.

[Like so many albums from the mid-'90s, Beck's Odelay was supported by a succession of multi-part singles in the U.K. and Europe, plus he had several cuts appearing on soundtracks and compilations, so there were plenty of stray songs to be assembled for an expanded reissue. Enough to spill over onto two-discs, actually, as the Deluxe Edition of his 1996 masterpiece — appearing in January 2008, about a year and a half too late for a proper tenth anniversary — contains 33 songs in its double-disc length. The very length of this set suggests that the reissue is a clearinghouse for all existing B-sides, but that's not quite true, as there are several cuts that are absent. Many of the missing B-sides are remixes or reinventions that aren't missed, and what's here is often is delightful, whether it's Beck mocking Stephen Malkmus' affectless delivery on "Thunder Peel," laying into a languorous groove on "Feather in Your Cap," easing into country-blues on "Devil Got My Woman" and "Trouble All My Days," or joking around with the south-of-the-border pastiche "Burro" and a piss-take on "Jack-Ass." None of these extra tracks are finessed by the Dust Brothers' seamless production, yet they fit the wild, careening vibe of Odelay and their inclusion makes the album a richer, better experience.]

Biography

Born: 08 July 1970 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Initially pegged as the voice of a generation when "Loser" turned into a smash crossover success, Beck wound up crystallizing much of the postmodern ruckus inherent in the '90s alternative explosion, but in unexpected ways. Based in the underground anti-folk and noise-rock worlds, Beck encompassed all manner of modern music, drawing in hip-hop, blues, trash rock, pop, soul, lounge music — pretty much any found sound or vinyl dug up from a dusty crate — blurring boundaries and encapsulating...
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