Beck Dabbles In Some
October 10, 1998
DGC Recording Finds Artist Returning To Acoustic Sound
LOS ANGELES--It's not the follow-up to "Odelay." Nor is it an esoteric side project. Rather, Beck's new DGC collection, "Mutations," is a gorgeous,
folk-intensive diversion from the funky sound that's made him famous.
"This is the record I've been wanting to make for five years, and I finally
got around to making it," says the soft-spoken Beck of the set, due Nov.
3. "There are two sides to what I do. I'm just trying to let these two sides co-exist somehow."
Those two sides, of course, are his acoustic work, la 1994's K Records release, "One Foot In The Grave" (which has sold 104,000 copies,
according to SoundScan), and the hip-hop-laden, sample-heavy rock of his two
platinum sellers, 1994's "Mellow Gold" and 1996's "Odelay" (1 million and 1.9 million,
respectively, according to SoundScan), which spawned the hits "Loser," "Devils Haircut," "Where It's At," and "The New Pollution."
The Nigel Godrich-produced "Mutations," however, is more of a follow-up to the indie folk/rock sounds of "One Foot In The Grave" than his last
two singles- driven records.
It's also the first Beck album recorded live in the studio with his touring
band--and it's the first time listeners will really hear Beck "sing" and
let his more serious side seep through.
The artist agrees, "It's a little more serious, but there is some tongue-in-cheek
[material] in there. I'm not hitting anyone over the head with it. It's maybe more of a deadpan [style from the] Leonard Cohen school. But the
singing is probably the most different thing on the record. The singing has always been an afterthought in other records. It's always the least
worked on. I think Nigel is somebody who really encouraged the emotional
aspect of the performance to come out. He made it OK for me to be expressive.
The album, which was recorded in a mere two weeks, runs the gamut from traditional folk ("Lazy Flies" to waltzy numbers ("We Live Again"), from
pure country ("Cancelled Check" to Brazilian-flavored cocktail music
("Tropicalia"). Gone, at least for this project, are his trademark offbeat, nonsensical
lyrics. "I wanted to approach the songs as just the songs--not coming at
an angle, not coming at it from a '90s perspective or an '80s perspective,"
explains the 28-year-old. "I wasn't interested in making it retro or contemporary.
It doesn't really have a lot of the trappings of the production of the moment. But, at the same time it isn't so traditional that it sounds like
I'm trying to redo some Kinks or Neil Young records.
"I'd always wanted to make a record that was just a mood piece," continues
Beck. "When I get home or I'm at a hotel after a gig, I don't really want
to rock out. I don't really want to put on this progressive, electronic Sturm und
Drang. The records that I tend to listen to are records that don't hit you over the head. They're like old friends--you can just hang
out with them. Like early Neil Young or Joni Mitchell's 'Blue.' Those kinds
of records are pacifying."
Likewise, many of the 12 tracks on "Mutations" are quite pacifying if not somber in tone. And several, including "Cancelled Check," were
written long before his breakout hit, "Loser."
The album was originally going to be released on Bong Load Records this past summer, but once DGC heard it the major decided to release it
"I had all these songs that didn't fit into what I was doing on 'Odelay,'
and I had a few new ones, and I was just very anxious to get back in the
studio and get my feet wet," says Beck, who is published by EMI Music.
"We were initially just going to do some demos, see what kind of album I wanted to make. [Bong Load] wanted a more acoustic record anyway,
because I was mostly doing acoustic stuff back in '91, '92, when I first hooked
up with Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf of Bong Load. We projected at that time me doing some folk records for them, so that was the initial idea.
So, we went in the studio, and the two weeks of demos kind of turned into
While Geffen is a part of the project in that the label is releasing and promoting it, the label and Beck have decided not to release a promotional
or commercial single, produce a video, or tour behind the record. The label
and his manager, Gold Mountain's John Silva, want to make it very clear that "Mutations" is not the official follow-up to "Odelay." That distinction
is being saved for a project the artist is working on and will likely be
released early next year.
"As is often the case with Beck, who is truly an artist with a vision, he went into the studio and found after a few weeks that he made a record
much farther evolved than a casual project," says Robert Smith, head of marketing at Geffen (U.S.), who adds that "Mutations" also serves to satisfy
those fans eagerly awaiting new material. "Beck is an artist like no other
artist, so traditional marketing and the traditional flow of releases does
not apply to him. His musical reach is so vast that for him as an artist
to be restricted to one major release a year doesn't apply."
John Artale, director of purchasing at the 160-store, Carnegie, Pa.-based National Record Mart, says many of the chains' alternative and
college-area stores have been asking about the record, but "it doesn't have the
regular big buzz; it's more of a niche market buzz. Unless people get a chance
to hear it on the radio, it will probably just attract the hardcore Beck
fans. But it's a nice little thing for Beck's immediate fans--a nice stopgap
to have something out before the next record."
The album is being promoted in the U.S. in an "organic way" through the media and in-store advertising. Modern rock, mainstream rock, and triple-A
radio will receive the album a week before its release. Additionally, Beck's
World Wide Web site (www. beck-web.com) is previewing each song on the album between now and the album's release date.
Outside of the U.S., Geffen plans to release a commercial single of "Tropicalia"
with two previously unreleased tracks, "Almost A Ghost" and "Halo Of Gold,"
according to Mel Posner, head of international at the label. The latter song Beck recorded for the forthcoming "More Oar: A Tribute To Alexander
'Skip' Spence," in honor of the former Moby Grape leader's influential 1969 solo album, "Oar" (see Declarations of Independents, page 71). And,
in Australia, "Mutations" will come with an added-value CD that features
an interview with Beck. Posner says it's not yet determined if the bonus
disc will be available in other countries.