Beck's Mellower Gold

Beck - Mutations
(DGC Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

Alternative rock's golden-boy, Beck has just released his third major label album and word has it that his record company hates it. With the smash success of his last album Odelay, an album which surprisingly cross-stitched rap, hip-hop, rock, folk and country very effectively, it's no wonder record execs, hoping for Odelay (Part Deux), frowned after hearing his latest album, Mutations.
But that's not to say that Mutations doesn't stand up to his previous work, in fact in some ways it even surpasses it.
Beck's recording style on his first two albums, Mellow Gold and Odelay, was to go into the studio and create an album from scratch, with no concept or songs in mind. The calculated carelessness, and often low-tech results worked superbly, catapulting him into the forefront of the 90's rock scene. On Mutations, however, Beck took a different approach and instead brought fully realized songs into the studio and whisked through the recording process in a mere two weeks. The result is a bare-bones, stripped down album much simpler and direct then anything he's released in the past. Even his vocals, which range from earnest frailty to deep, rich crooning, sound like a different, if not more mature, person.
While Beck has kept elements of his eclectic rock, folk and country around for Mutations, he has totally shelved his white-trash, hip-hop grooves in favor of Brazilian rhythms, as on "Tropicalia", and quirky, English-styled pop eccentricities - a la Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett - on "Lazy Flies" and the ironically tuneful "Dead Melodies."
Revisiting his love for Southern roots music he hands us the country-fried "Sing It Again" and "Canceled Check", with a hot slide guitar that melts like a curling iron on a stick of butter. With a bluesy acoustic guitar that sounds like it was lifted from Led Zeppelin III, as well his own smart alecky harmonica on "Bottle Of Blues", Beck adds a twisted touch of the Delta to the album.
Although there are no "hook" songs here, such as "Loser" from his breakthrough album Mellow Gold or "Where It's At" and "Devil's Haircut" from Odelay, there is one song, the hidden run-out track at the end of the disc, that slightly resembles the Beck of yore. On it he rocks with a heavy-handed psychedelia, complete with phat, fuzzed-up bass, staticky guitar and plenty of knob-twiddling.
With a refreshing honesty, Beck adds a touching, human earthiness to his latest musical mutations.

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