Beck - Mellow Gold Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Beck’s ramshackle 1994 album, a quintessential piece of alternative rock, experimental folk, and hip-hop that felt magically displaced in time.

If you were around to hear Beck’s “Loser” in the early 1990s, you probably felt the plates shift a little. Maybe you heard it on local radio in Los Angeles, where it arrived without context or marketing. Maybe you heard it in Seattle, where, six months after Beck had ad-libbed it in a cramped living-room studio, it became the most requested song on KNND’s nightly People’s Choice Countdown, beating out the most recent single by Pearl Jam, who at the time may as well have been on the city’s tourism board.

Or maybe you, like me, heard it on MTV, where it seemed like a cool breeze blowing through the abstract pain of mainstream alternative music. When, in July, 1994, an interviewer from Spin magazine suggested that Beck’s backstory—poverty, an 8th-grade education, bouts of borderline homelessness—felt like fodder for darker sentiments, Beck, 23 and blindsided by his own new fame, pitched his voice up and whined, “You just gotta rage against the appliance, man. The toast is burning, and you just gotta rip it out and free it before it fills the house with smoke.” For Vedder, hearing “Loser” lap you on the radio must’ve felt like getting hit in the face by trash thrown from a passing car.

Much of Mellow Gold was recorded in the home studio of a guy named Carl Stephenson. By “home studio,” I mean a tape recorder set up in such a way that Beck later remembered having to finish vocal takes before Stephenson’s girlfriend wanted to get in and cook dinner. Stephenson had grown up playing in youth symphonies around Olympia, Washington, before quitting his grocery-store job and moving to Houston to work at Rap-A-Lot Records, then home to the Geto Boys. Rap-A-Lot was hardcore; Stephenson was not. He loved watching DJ Ready Red strip samples from old funk and soul records, but he was uncomfortable with the violence and misogyny of the material. He soon moved to Los Angeles, where he struggled to plant his homey, psychedelic productions in an increasingly gangsta market.
The way Stephenson remembers it, Beck Hansen was a street busker with a bad haircut. But he had a mischievous sense of creativity and no attachments to his own artistic self-image, and when Stephenson—alongside co-producers Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock, who ran the small Bong Load label—suggested they pair his rudimentary folk songs with Stephenson’s loops and grooves, Beck went with it. After all, he liked rap—the immediacy, the beat, the sense of performance. In the same Spin interview where he raged against the toaster, he remembered the communal warmth he felt as a teenager riding the bus on L.A., hearing Grandmaster Flash playing on some kids’ boombox from the back, how people from all different parts of the city seemed to absorb the sound, some even getting up to dance.
Mostly though, fashioning himself as a kind of rapper was a chance for Beck to undermine the sanctity of what it meant to be a white guy with an acoustic guitar. That he understood hip-hop as an extension of folk music rather than a betrayal of it—the way rap spun meaningful, entertaining stories out of everyday life using equipment anyone could get their hands on—felt insightful, even subversive, especially at a time when we were starting to digest the reality that grunge was just classic rock after all: the same quest for glory, the same macho, self-serious dream. In press coverage from the time, you can feel the ache of boomers hungering for the next Bob Dylan, but in reality, Beck was more like Tone Lōc or Mississippi John Hurt, or an asexual cousin to the Beastie Boys: a funny, self-styled dope just geeking out on the scene.
Compared to the rest of its 1994 class—Green Day’s Dookie, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Hole’s Live Through This, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York—Mellow Gold was both weirder and lower to the ground. It could be direct—the roughness of the production, the visceral noise of some of the songs—but obscure, too, a knot of words that didn’t immediately register as metaphor or reality. And as vivid as it was, it also felt magically displaced in time. The compacted ’70s soul of “Fuckin’ With My Head” and “Sweet Sunshine”; the deadpan folk of “Nitemare Hippy Girl” and “Steal My Body Home”: listening to Mellow Gold was like finding a fossil from the future.
Part of the fun and frustration of encountering Mellow Gold was figuring out what, if any of this, Beck took seriously. His mother, Bibbe, had been in some Andy Warhol movies and later played in a band called Black Fag with the drag performer Vaginal Davis. His grandfather, Al Hansen, was a member of Fluxus, a conceptual art group whose most well-known pieces—Hansen’s Yoko Ono Piano Drop, for example, in which a piano was pushed off a five-story building—functioned less like art than an attempt to make the viewer confront what they think art is in the first place. Mellow Gold wasn’t quite so high-concept, but Beck certainly seemed more interested in the currency of cultural images than the supposed truths of his own dark mind. That said, if you were the kind of listener who heard lines like “my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite who’s choking on the splinters” as nonsense instead of poetry, he was your ideological punching bag come to life, a portrait of the artiste as the charlatan who throws shit at the wall and leaves it to you to figure out what it means.
The funny thing about his classification as a “slacker” was just how hard the content of his music could be. Where punks of generations past responded to dwindling prospects with angst, the slacker supposedly shrugged. Like the millennial 25 years later—another figment of the warped boomer mind—the slacker was ultimately anchored by entitlement: They didn’t not-perform because they couldn’t, but, like Herman Melville’s famous protagonist, Bartleby, because they preferred not to.

And yet here we have a piece of supposedly quintessential slacker art that is mostly about jobs: working them, losing them, the cyclic ruin that comes from not being able to get one and the capitalistic grind that keeps those clinging to them underfoot: “I was born in this hotel/Washing dishes in the sink” (”Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997”); “Fourteen days I been sleeping in a barn/Better get a paycheck tattooed on my arm” (Soul Suckin’ Jerk”); “I quit my job blowing leaves/Telephone bills up my sleeves” (“Beercan.”)

Even when work isn’t in the picture, poverty is the frame. The stories on Mellow Gold take place in trailer parks and subsist on credit and suitcases of cheap beer. They are ground-down, washed-up and loving it, “dancing on the roof, shootin’ holes in the moon.” The music sounds like junk because junk is what he sees from his window. And the punchline of “Loser” isn’t that he lost, but that he didn’t have a chance in the first place.

Listening to Mellow Gold, I’m always left with the same image: A child at play in the ruins of a dying world. “Tonight the city is full of morgues,” goes the first line on “Pay No Mind,” “and all the toilets are overflowing.” We’re at song two. (Or, as the tape-warped vocal at the beginning of the song puts it, “This’s song two on the album. This is the album right here. Burn the album.”)

Between here and there lies mountains of garbage and unpaid bills, the purgatory of menial work, screaming neighbors and rivers of shit and the well-moisturized ghouls who profit from it all and tell you it’s fine. Where some writers synthesize their inner worlds from the insulation of an armchair or desk, Beck seemed to be out there with rubber gloves and a second-hand hazmat suit, bagging up southern-rock compilations and rap mixtapes, reporting live from the brink with a crappy dictaphone. By the time I make it to “Nitemare Hippy Girl”—her giant tofu, her radiant self-obsession—it doesn’t sound like a diss, it sounds like a safe haven. Maybe even a koan: If the world ends outside your window but you’re too stoned to notice, does it still end?

I’ll spare you the fairytale about how this album helped make mainstream music better or more interesting. It did seem like good things came from it, including widening the avenues of conversation between hip-hop and indie-rock, and a weakening of distinctions between what was considered alternative and what was mainstream. In the years to come, labels like Matador, publications like the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal, bands like Cibo Matto and Cornershop and even Björk and Air all made the kind of cultural omnivorousness Beck demonstrated feel like part of a general push away from old myths toward something more eclectic, more effervescent, maybe even more feminine. And as a young white man, I have to say it felt good to see someone up there who wasn’t so invested in their own darkness, especially with Kurt Cobain pointing to where all that darkness went.

Mellow Gold was actually one of three albums Beck released in 1994: Another, One Foot in the Grave, was a lo-fi album of blues and folk, while Stereopathetic Soulmanure—released a week before Mellow Gold—was more fragmented, noisy, and tossed-off. Both, ironically, produced songs later covered by the kinds of classic-rock standbys whose universality Beck seemed to offer an alternative to: “Asshole” by Tom Petty, and “Rowboat” by Johnny Cash. They are both great songs, two of his best, as is “Satan Gave Me a Taco,” in which a luckless young man gets food poisoning from Satan only to discover that his life is in fact a music video. After an odyssey ascending the mountain of fame he is committed to hell, where he starts a taco stand with Satan—“just to smell the smell.”

You could hear the old blues there, the big American yarn of hustlers and idiots and someone trying to sell something and someone else getting his ass burned. Years later, Spin would call Beck a generation’s consolation prize after the death of Kurt Cobain. But I always heard him as more of a cheerleader, maybe even a coach. Yeah, the world’s a trash heap. Let's climb it and watch the sun set.

👉👇You May Also Like👇👌

View the original article here
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Beck - Mellow Gold Music Album Reviews Beck - Mellow Gold Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on May 03, 2020 Rating: 5


Post a Comment