About the Album:
Beck Hansen started out as a street musician, first in Europe and then Los Angeles. He “crashed open mic nights and developed a sonic hobo aesthetic that came to fruition with 1994’s ‘Loser.’” CM The “playful send-up of Generation X angst” CM was a “t-shirt-ready slacker joke rather than a seething slacker lament.” PF It became “the alternative-rock anthem of the summer” TB of 1994.
The Voice of a Slacker Generation
“Loser” peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 three weeks after Kurt Cobain killed himself PF which brought “the grunge era to its unofficial close.” PM Spin magazine called Beck “a generation’s consolation prize” PF in the wake of Cobain’s death; Beck was at the forefront of an “explosion of styles that made the mid-1990s such a weird yet exciting time to be a rock music fan.” PM “Whereas Kurt exuded raw power with every phlegm-spewing roar, Beck rapped in monotone (when he wasn’t crooning like a sleep-deprived folkie).” PF “Beck took the piss out of a doomed world with a mix of irony and showmanship.” PF
“Many self-styled citizens of the alternative nation wrote him off as a one-hit wonder. But anyone who gave the rest of 1994’s wildly eclectic Mellow Gold an open-minded listen knows that Beck Hansen is no novelty-tune phony.” EW It “was an eclectic melting pot of ideas,” TB “careening from lo-fi hip-hop to folk, moving back through garage rock and arty noise. It was an impressive album” AMG that “put him on the map commercially” BL “but the parts didn’t necessarily stick together.” AMG
Then Came Odelay
“Then came Odelay – a thoroughly carefree-sounding affair that made everyone take this boyish imp very seriously. It’s the album where he managed to combine the disparate noise, blues, and subverted hippie-isms of his early work into a showy post-modern marvel.” PF The “groundbreaking” CM album “cemented his status as a ‘90s icon.” BL It marked an “anything-goes era of alternative rock [that] lasted maybe two more years until the heavier sounds of nu-metal began to dominate the landscape near the end of 1998.” PM
Odelay was his second major label release, but was somewhat “Beck’s attempt to consolidate his career” CM after he’d released four albums in 1993 and 1994 through various labels. The album started as an acoustic record built on “sparse and melancholic” WK songs, of which only “Ramshackle,” “Feather in Your Cap,” and “Brother” have seen release. WK “Ramshackle” appeared on the original version of Odelay; the latter two were on the deluxe edition.
The Dust Brothers
The album changed gears when Beck connected with the Dust Brothers. They were “responsible for the smorgasbord of tasty, left-field samples on the Beastie Boys’ seminal Paul’s Boutique” EW and had also worked with Tone Loc and Young MC. As the eventual co-producers and co-writers of the Odelay album, they “were able to make sonic sense of Beck’s eclectic ear.” CM As a result, Odelay samples everyone from Tchaikovsky to the Frogs EW and tracks are filled “with background tambourines, maracas, and synthesizers, lending the album much of its bizarre, oddly gratifying texture.” SL
“The Dust Brothers head-spinning use of samples and Beck’s predilection for making things sound like they’re from the ‘70s (or intentionally distorting them) makes it nearly impossible to tell what was sampled and what was actually performed on the album.” PM
Rock’s Newest Chameleon
The album “further affirms Beck’s rock-chameleon identity,” EW showing a capacity “to jump from genre to genre in the manner of David Bowie in the 1970s.” TB The album is an “effortless summation of decades of popular music.” PF With the “technicolor version of his Woody Guthrie-meets-Grandmaster Flash vision,” RS Odelay “found Beck collecting the grooves of generations past and reshaping them into a postmodern tapestry, merging countless samples and styles into one cohesive whole.” SL
“All of the songs…are rooted in simple forms – whether it’s blues (‘Devil’s Haircut’), country (Lord Only Knows, ‘Sissyneck’), soul (Hotwax), folk (Ramshackle), or rap (High 5 [Rock the Catskills], Where It’s At)” AMG but “each song throws its respective classification on its head.” SL “Songs frequently morph from one genre to another, seemingly unrelated genre – bursts of noise give way to country songs with hip-hop beats, easy listening melodies transform into a weird fusion of pop, jazz, and cinematic strings.” AMG Beck “sees no reason why musical allusions to hip-hop, the Beatles, James Brown, punk, Gram Parsons, cool jazz, and Dylan can’t coexist in the same song.” AZ
The Album Title and Cover
The word “odelay” is derived from “órale,” a Mexican slang interjection commonly used as an exclamation expressing approval or encouragement. Singer Stephen Malkmus says it is a pun on “oh delay” because the album took so long to record. WK
The cover features a photo taken by photographer Joan Ludwig of a rare breed of a Hungarian dog known as a Komondor jumping over a hurdle. It was first featured in the July 1977 issue of the American Kennel Club’s Gazette.
Odelay won Grammys for Best Alternative Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. It was named album of the year by NME, Rolling Stone, and The Village Voice.
“Where It’s At” and High 5 (Rock the Catskills)”
“Where It’s At” was released as the first single, becoming “a fixture on modern rock radio and MTV.” PM It is “a good primer for the record, as it has a funky beat, a strong chorus, and a whole pie of samples.” PM It won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
That song and “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” served as the album’s “funkiest most scatterbrained tracks.” PF The former features a snippet of Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony #8 in B minor while “Where It’s At” pulls bits from a sex-ed dialogue. PF The latter “alignied a narcotized keyboard loop to what could be the album’s motto: ‘I got two turntables and a microphone.’” CM
The garage-rock classic “I Can Only Give You Everything” serves as the basis for “Devil’s Haircut,” a song which “describes a demented hell.” SL It “uses a variation of the ‘Amen’ drum break – maybe the most sample drumbeat of all time – and features a snarling guitar riff that is reprised without distortion in the bass. It’s one of the most straight-ahead rockers on the album, which may be why it’s the opening track.” PM
“The New Pollution”
This “is actually quite similar sonically to ‘Devil’s Haircut,’ but the intro, which combines perky choir vocals with a handful of odds samples, obscures this.” PM It “parodies an age-old caricature of corrupt women” SL supported by “a rhythm track of precise bass and a drum loop predicated on a sweet snare sound that gives way to an expertly spotted sax break.” CM That “signature sax riff” PF is “lovingly pilfered from forgotten tenor player Joe Thomas’s ‘Venus.’” PF
Beck proved to be “a wordsmith who used detailed imagery to dazzle and obscure quiet truths” CM via his “whacked-out street poetry” EW and “ever-present sense of humor: Without straying into Weird Al territory, he imbues his lyrics with a healthy sense of the absurd – something almost entirely lacking in rock today. ‘'I got a stolen wife and a rhinestone life, and some good old boys/ I’m writing my will on a three-dollar bill,'’ he sings in Sissyneck.” EW
This song linked “funk grinds and CB radio vocals to a sweet guitar lick and digtal squawks.” CM Beck raps “over a bed of sound that buzzes along on fuzz guitars and a single bleeping synth tone but then cuts in a couple of times with a sample of soul horns. It’s one of the album’s harder-hitting tracks, at least for its first three minutes. Afterward, the song calms down to just a simple groove and seems like it’s going to fade away. Then a wave of distorted noise comes in, mostly dissipates, and leaves an ancient synth playing a solo, switching from one single note to the next for the final minute.” PM
“Jack-Ass” and “Lord Only Knows”
“By way of contrast there’s ‘Jack-Ass’…and the Stonesy country lament ‘Lord Only Knows.’” CM “Jack-Ass” is “an autumnal psychedelic pop ballad” CM that “represents the folker side of Beck. It’s a laid-back track that is also built around samples, particularly a watery-sounding guitar riff. But the laconic singing delivery, combined with the omnipresent tambourine and jangling acoustic guitar, make the song sound slower than it actually is.” PM “There’s a weariness and lack of artifice to the vocals that presages Beck’s occasional future forays into confessional, more acoustic songwriting.” PM
This song “manages to include slack-stringed acoustic guitar, accordion, distorted guitars (or is it a distorted harmonica?), snyth bloops, honky-tonk piano, Spanish language singing, and English language rapping into a lone coherent track.” PM
“Minus” “resembles a heavily distorted punk rock track and is the album’s shortest entry.” PM
This “is a cosmic and creep composition that pushes Beck and the Dust Brothers’ sensibilities in a completely different direction. Strange, Gamelan-style percussion undergrids the track, giving it an unsettling vibe. A sitar shows up in the spaces where Beck isn’t singing, erringering the sense of otherness.” PM
It isn’t just that Beck “accomplishes his sonic experiment” SL with “resolute confidence” SL and surprisingly “relative coherency.” SL The album is a “defining statement of an entire generation in the throes of finding its own voice.” SL “Odelay can be seen as the artist’s own cheeky response to other Gen X alternative acts.” SL He “completely ignored the angst-driven nihilistic trends of the grunge bands” SL AMG by “channeling the independent exuberance of alternative’s New Wave roots” SL and “demonstrating to his rock peers that turntables had a brighter future than refried grunge.” RS
Beck “asks us to look past our conventional views of what something should or shouldn’t sound like.” SL “Odelay was just as much a swan song for alternative’s passing era as it was the ushering in of a new generation of pop music that was ever so left-of-center.” SL This is “vital music with a flea market ‘tude.” ZS Odelay “allowed Beck to have a long-lasting career in music where he has been able to try just about anything he wants.” PM
Notes: A deluxe edition was released in 2008 which contained a second disc of B-sides, remixes, and previously unreleased songs.