Review: Beck's efforts at 'Mutation' reap little reward
Web posted on:
From Reviewer Wendy Brandes
(CNN) -- At the rate Beck turns over new leaves, you'd think he was going for an advanced degree in botany. So, if you buy the aptly named "Mutations," don't expect the crisp iceberg lettuce of yesterday.
It would have been easy for the musician/singer/songwriter to continue with the smart amalgam of hip-hop and rock that made his previous album, "Odelay," a hit and won him a Grammy. The record label executives would be happy, and image-wise, it couldn't hurt. Admittedly, the Beck of "Odelay" came off as a nerdy white rapper shaking his groove thing, but at least he was a nerdy white rapper shaking it to cool tunes like "Where It's At."
Instead, like Bob Dylan in reverse, Beck has returned -- mostly - to the acoustic style he has finessed before. Samples are out; sitar is in. Synthesizers lurk amidst the guitars, harmonica and glockenspiel, but "Mutations" still poses a problem for the folks at MTV. What do you do? Beck "Plugged"? Beck Unplugged Unplugged?
Admirable effort, but too much work
It takes guts to make a big switch, and the effort is admirable. The problem with "Mutations" is that so much of it sounds as if it was an effort. Beck seems to have been thinking: "What can I do that's really, really different?"
On "Tropicalia," he goes bossa nova (catchy in a strange way), while "Sing It Again" sounds like a novelty cowboy song. "Canceled Check" is another Tex-Mex concoction with "done-me-wrong" lyrics: "I hate to do this/But you're a pain in the neck/I thought you knew this/You're handing me a canceled check."
"Nobody's Fault But My Own" lumbers on for a full five minutes, its lyrics recalling "Loser" in attitude, minus the wit. Instead of the in-your-face "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me" that created a perversely witty slacker anthem, we get a prolonged whine: "Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault, but my own." By the fourth repetition of that phrase, the listener is inclined to agree: "Yeah, it is your fault."
"Nobody's Fault" and "Canceled Check" aside, the lyrics tend to be elaborate word-and-image exercises. "They're chewing dried meat/In a house of disrepute/The dust of opiates/And syphilis patients on brochure vacations," Beck sings on "Lazy Flies." On "We Live Again," it's "Drunk libertines/Stink like colognes/From a new-fangled wasteland." Colorful, but it doesn't exactly get the blood going.
The blues always have more heart, so "Bottle of Blues" is a success from the first harmonica squawk. Plus, how many blues songs mix in lines like "Egos drone/and pose alone" with "Ain't it hard/To want somebody/Who doesn't want you." "O Maria" takes the same tack musically, with lyrics that put a new spin on traditional blues lamentation. "There's no whiskey there's no wine/Just the concrete and a worried mind" may be the best bit on the album.
"Mutations" isn't Beck at his best, but it's a sign that he wants to keeping rolling along. Let mossy Mick Jagger keep singing "Satisfaction" -- hopefully, Beck won't need to warble "Loser" when he's 50-plus.
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.