In The Saddle Again Page 3
Beck performs his first large stadium show at Lollapalooza and has an altogether horrible time. He tests out material from his forthcoming album and it falls flat; the sea of unenthusiastic response to his non-"Loser" work is discouraging. Beck is accompanied on the Lollapalooza blitz and other dates by bassist Abby Travis (later to spend some brief time in Elastica), guitarist Sunny Reinhart, and childhood pal Mike Bioto on keyboards. Grandfather Al passes away while Beck is on tour this summer. Beck meets the Dust Brothers (John King, Mike Simpson), and they begin loosely recording the sounds of Odelay. The non-hierarchical structure and undefined roles lead to the creation of Beck's careful blending of sounds from various genres (including some Schubert). During recording, there is apparently a horrid response from everyone to the mixing of "oil and water" elements. "At the time I had people like Rick Rubin coming by telling me not to put it out, that it was a mistake, that the record wasn't good," Beck remembers. "I had nobody I knew saying that it was a great record, nothing that gave me any idea that people were going to like it. So I resigned myself that it was going to be just an interesting footnote. I was working in a vacuum in that way."
Beck ignores the outside criticism and wraps up Odelay. It's released in June, along with the single "Where It's At." The album enters the charts at #16, and it's lauded as a groundbreaking happy marriage of blues, rap, Casios, country, and pop, and Beck's trademark lyrics full of colourful, fragmented imagery match the sonic collage. Fanfare and a media juggernaut soon follow, with both Spin and Rolling Stone bestowing him with "Artist of the Year" and "Album of the Year" accolades. "That was the first time I had some huge acknowledgement and acceptance, but it was totally unexpected," Beck says. A few naysayers dismiss Odelay as unfocused pastiche, yet unlike with the intentional irony of "Loser," Beck maintains that the eclectic grab-bag of sounds is nothing but a sincere representation of his diverse musical background. "That's the sound I always had in my head," he explains, "so I guess it gives something that feels like my life." The Odelay tour is full of showmanship and flash, complete with costume changes (from rhinestone cowboy to seafaring sailor in one set) and robot-popping dance moves. Beck gives continual props onstage to his newest band line-up: guitarist Greg "Smokey" Hormel (nicknamed "Smokestack"), bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Theo Mondle (dubbed "Hounddog"), and drummer Waronker ("Showboat").
Beck wins two Grammys for Best Alternative Music Performance (Odelay) and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance ("Where It's At"), a Brit Award for Best International Male, a MTV Video Award, and a VH1 Fashion Award. In October, long-time drummer Joey Waronker splits his time between Beck's tour and the recently drummer-less R.E.M. Other changes to the line-up include keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. (christened "Shotgun") and the addition of DJ Swamp.
Without rest after a year-and-a-half long tour, Beck jumps into the famed Oceanway Studios (Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas) with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. In a measly but intense two weeks they finish recording Mutations, and it's ready for release on Bong Load by June. Yet Geffen nabs it instead for November, striking again the compromise that Bong Load will release the vinyl. But the conflict over this helps fuel the animosity and tension between all three parties. Also, Geffen's parent company, Polygram, is bought by Universal and Beck is not happy with his new representation. Mutations quietly gathers acclaim. Composed mainly of years-old songs selected from his notebook by girlfriend Leigh, the album full of slow, melancholic ballads tinged with bossa-nova beats and sitars surprises many after the frenetic Odelay. It also surprises with its lyrical intimacy and heartfelt emotion, which help garner critical praise from those who see the album as closer to the "real" Beck. Mutations has the highest chart entry so far at #13.
A collective of anti-corporate activists/artists called "art mark" put out an unauthorised remix CD called Deconstructing Beck. With blatant and proud copyright infringement, their admitted conceptual intent is to critique and subvert "Beck the Product," not to make good-sounding remixes. Beck is not happy with this particular project. Though, as a musician who owes much of his success to sampling others' work, he generally encourages the democracy of sound, going so far as to hold remix contests online (as he later does with Midnite Vultures tracks). It's around this time that Beck realises the internet's potential: several shows are broadcast on the web, and weekly video updates are given on the site about work on the "official" follow up to Odelay. Production starts in January, yet computer glitches at the Dust Brothers‚ studio and the Mutations hubbub temporarily stall recording.
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