It was 20 years ago today…June 1996

Beck: Odelay

After several early independent releases honing his writing chops, Beck burst onto the alternative rock scene in 1994? with his breakthrough hit “Loser”. It was a hit so massive, all of a sudden, everybody thought they could string together nonsensical lyrical flow in a verse. T-shirts were made featuring the title emblazoned on the chest of the shirts.

Beck made a few smaller records after Mellow Gold, the album from which “Loser” came, but his major label followup was Odelay. It featured an instantly recognizable and no iconic cover of a dog jumping over a hurdle. It featured four massive radio singles. In short, it was proof positive that Beck was no mere one hit fluke and he was staking his claim at alt-rock superstardom.

Odelay kicks off with the track “Devil’s Haircut”, one of the singles from the album. The track itself showcases Beck’s own unique lyrical flow, featuring seemingly non-sensical lines such as “stealing kisses from the Leper’s faces” and “mouthwash jukebox magazine”. In spite of those, however, the song is undeniably catchy. It propels along for about three minutes and rarely feels like it has overstayed its welcome.

A few songs later, we’re graced with the track “New Pollution”, featuring a rapid drum beat set prominently behind a tambourine beat and deceptively simple guitar line. Though the rhymes here are occasionally as non-sensical as “Devil’s Haircut”, there is a story about a woman obsessed with herself but going out every night to party. Presumably, the storyteller sees through this facade and decides to veer away, but can’t help to look on at the impending carnage.

From the first time I heard the album, the track “Jack-Ass” was my favorite. I liked the guitar line, the lyrics and the story they tell. It was only much later that I discovered that the guitar line was lifted wholesale (and credited, mind you) from the band Them’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. During my college years, and all the events concurrent, the lines of the song, including “loose ends tying a noose in the back of my mind” and “when I wake up, someone will shake up my lazy bones” spoke to my long hours of classes and study, my familial obligations, and my history of being a poor sleeper. Even all these years later, familial obligations and sleeping troubles are still prominent aspects of my life.

The very next track on the album, “Where It’s At”, I had heard as a single on the radio for years before I bought the album. The radio single is nearly 2 minutes shorter than the album version, which features samples from the educational album “Sex for Teens (Where It’s At)” that, at least to me, interrupt the flow of the song. The song itself features some of the more famous lines from Beck’s catalogue, including “two turntables and a microphone” and “bottles and cans just clap your hands”.

Odelay was nominated by the Grammy’s for Best Album of the Year and won for Best Alternative Album. The track “Where It’s At” won for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Given the acclaim of the album, Beck followed up with the album Mutations, a decidedly more downcast album recorded over a very short time frame, with each track only being given one day to be completed. In 2015, Becks album Morning Phase was the surprise winner of Album of the Year (though deservedly so, given the beauty and artistry of the albums tracks), bringing Beck’s singular style of music to a much wider audience.

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