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Beck’s ‘Odelay’ combo of many genres

Edward Morgan, Staff Writer

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With Memphis in May this weekend and this album’s 20th anniversary coming up, it seems like the perfect time to return to Beck’s “Odelay.”

Perhaps a little history about Beck is necessary. After the death of Kurt Cobain, alternative rock had a gaping hole to fill. Beck just happened to fill that hole for a moment. 

His breakout hit “Loser” was much less serious and brooding than Cobain, but his surreal lyrics and anthem, “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?,” resonated with many of ’90s youth.  However, his next album “Odelay” blew all expectations out of the water. It is thought by many to be one of the best and most influential albums of the 1990s.  How is the actual music though?

“Odelay” is very unique in its ability to be an album with no real genre. It is usually called rock or alternative rock, but it is really a culmination of many genres. 

Beck uses many different samples and instruments from a variety of places to create a sound very much his own. You can’t just call a song this genre or that genre; it is just Beck’s song.

The album has a great opener in “Devil’s Haircut.” It is a great start to Beck’s relaxed delivery and memorable hooks. It is one of the highlights of the album with a very memorable guitar riff and bass line.

“One of my favorite songs that album is ‘Devil’s Haircut,’” said Oxford High junior Sylvia Culpepper. “Beck is just such a dynamic artist, and it is interesting to hear his varying sounds.”

After that is “Hotwax,” which is closest in relation to his biggest hit “Loser,” with its slide guitar, a Spanish-speaking chorus, and rap-esque delivery. The lyrics continue to get more unique as well.

“Lord Only Knows” changes from the more deadpan delivery into full singing. The song has nearly no samples, but it instead has Beck along with some great drums and guitars. It is actually one of my personal favorites on the album and one of Beck’s more underrated songs.  The next song, “New Pollution,” takes another turn with a suave guitar hook and drum beat.  Beck continues to dance with a more relaxed and comfortable tone than “Lord Only Knows.”  It is a one of the most popular off the album.

I have very few issues with Odelay; however, I feel that the tracks “Derelict” and “Novacane” are the lowest point of the album. They are both great songs, but they feel like such a slow and crawling pace compared to the fun veracity of the last tracks and the ones following. 

“Derelict” is the most unique track on the album with a beat that is unlike anything on the album.  “Novacane” is less slowly paced with a fun guitar hook, and Beck’s rapping more than on most tracks, but it is still one of the lesser tracks on the album.

The next track though, “Jack-A**” is not only one of the my favorite tracks on the album, but it is one of my favorite songs. It consists of an amazing bass line and mellow keyboard with Beck soothingly singing some of his best lyrics. The main riff is also just so calming. One of the highlights is how it all falls apart at the end with a signature donkey sound along with the beat just going wild.  The entire production is just so fantastic.  It is a highlight on an album full of highlights.

It is followed by another one of the best tracks on the album, “Where it’s At.” “Where it’s At” just has everything going for it. It has an amazing keyboard riff, with Beck rapping in his most suave and charming tone, with a great bass line and drums, as well as the accompanying unique sounds.

Beck really pulls out some great ones here with so many great bridges and memorable sampled quotes like “That was a good drum break” and “That’s beautiful dad.”  The song is just amazing in nearly every way from beginning to end.

“‘Where It’s At’ is a jamming song,” OHS junior Jacob Sandlin said. “Beck is so talented, and that song rocks my world.”

Most of the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of the previous midsection, but it is still great.  “Minus” is a great follow-up to “Where It’s At” with a simple but intense guitar riff and drums that really fit nicely into the album. “Sissyneck” is unique on the album as well with a more country sounding guitar riff and singing tone. “Readymade” is slower than the last few with a very mellow drum sounding and a calm back talking behind it. It is the perfect predecessor to the most rap-like track on the album, “High 5 [Rock the Catskills].”

“High 5” is yet another turn for the album, with Beck not sounding like himself and straight rapping on the album. It has a very old school hip-hop beat, as well as plenty of weird sections, including one where it turns into classical music for a moment. It just feels like a great second-to-last track for the album with such an exciting and upbeat way to lead into the final track.

“Ramshackle” is the last track on “Odelay” and maybe the most simple. It is just Beck singing with a very relaxing acoustic guitar and a simple little drum in the background.  However, it is my favorite track on the album and one of my favorite songs ever.  It is just so unlike most of the music you hear. It is a very surreal experience with a sound that just sounds unlike life. It is almost dream-like. It is so simple, but it is able to hit you at your core emotions.  It is the best way to end the album.

“Odelay is what he does best,” said OHS senior Bruno Pagani. “With drums and bass that sync taught so well they could be one instrument, the album mixes together so many genres to create something that is quintessential Beck.”

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Beck’s ‘Odelay’ combo of many genres