FEATURE: Who You Callin’ a Loser?! The Amazing and Evolving Beck: His Ten Finest Albums




Who You Callin’ a Loser?!



The Amazing and Evolving Beck: His Ten Finest Albums


THIS might sound relevant of nothing (and you’d be half-right)…


 IMAGE CREDIT: Billboard

but I am thinking about those artists who have managed to endure for decades in the industry and done so through consistently brilliant and engaging albums. When I think about the finest artists out there; those who have managed to cement a legacy and continue to amaze, there are few who stand firmer than Beck. The forty-eight-year-old, Los Angeles-born treasure has weirded-out, amazed and led music since his debut album, Golden Feelings, in 1993 (that album is seen as the ‘unofficial’ debut of Beck). His most-recent record, Colors, was released last year and met with critical acclaim – not seen as his finest hour but certainly nothing that can be called average! There have been thirteen studio albums spanning twenty-four years; each with their own skin, personality and dynamic. I have collated his finest ten albums and put them in their rightful order – although many might agree with the rankings! From the genre-fusing masterpieces to the more introspective and personal; here is the essential Beck back catalogue with a standout track and review from each album – showing how critics reacted to the record at the time (or in retrospect). Have a look through the top-ten and it is clear why the intrepid, experimental and wonderful Beck…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel 

IS in a league of his own!



10. Colors


Release Date: 13th October, 2017

Label: Capitol

Producers: Beck (also exec.); Greg Kurstin (also exec.) and Cole M.G.N.

Standout Track: Dear Life


Colors closes with a nod to those of us most enamored of sad-mode Beck. “Fix Me” is a gorgeously melancholy mood piece that would’ve fit nicely on Morning Phase. Beck wrote and produced the track himself, adding an acoustic strum to its synth wash and simple backbeat. It’s telling that it’s the polar opposite of the album’s other great song, “Wow”—one’s silly, the other contemplative. They’re proof, in a way, that Beck is at his best when he’s navigating the margins rather than playing to the middle. Colors is solid—Beck doesn’t make bad records, whatever mode he’s in—and it flirts with greatness, but he’s at his best when he decides to either get loose or get serious, less so when he drives straight down the center” – AV Club

9. The Information


Release Date: 3rd October, 2006

Label: Interscope

Producer: Nigel Godrich

Standout Track: Cellphone’s Dead


It’s a sonic tour de force, and Beck seems comfortable in the info-storm, which he presents not as dystopia or utopia, but as a restless middle ground, like Dante’s limbo, or America in 2006. The Information clearly aspires to be a self-aware update of dorm-room bong-hit soundtracks like The Dark Side of the Moon or OK Computer, right down to the cryptic, spaced-out outro (voiced by director Spike Jonze and author Dave Eggers). It earns those comparisons. At a time when freaky ’60s music is being revived with varying levels of aesthetic discernment (Espers, Comets on Fire), Beck manages to drink the psychedelic Kool-Aid without losing his wits in the process” – Entertainment Weekly

8. Mutations


Release Date: 3rd November, 1998

Label: DGC

Producers: Beck Hansen; Nigel Godrich

Standout Track: Tropicalia


Mutations was never meant to be a commercial endeavor -- there's no floor-shaker like "Where It's At," and it doesn't trade in the junk culture that brought Odelay to life. Recording with his touring band -- marking the first time he has entered the studio with a live band -- does result in a different sound, but it's not so much a departure as it is a side road that is going in the same direction. None of the songs explore new territory, but they're rich, lyrically and musically. There's an off-the-cuff wit to the songwriting, especially on "Canceled Check" and "Bottle of Blues," and the performances are natural, relaxed, and laid-back, without ever sounding complacent. In fact, one of the nifty tricks of Mutations is how it sounds simple upon the first listen, then reveals more psychedelic layers upon each play. Beck is not only a startling songwriter -- his best songs are simultaneously modern and timeless -- he is a sharp record-maker, crafting albums that sound distinct and original, no matter how much they may borrow. In its own quiet, organic way, Mutations confirms this as much as either Mellow Gold or Odelay” – AllMusic  

7. Morning Phase

Release Date: 21st February, 2014

Labels: Capitol/Fonograf

Producer: Beck

Standout Track: Heart Is a Drum


Yet there's an older, wiser head here: as the title suggests, rather than wallow, Beck accepts that heartbreak is just a temporary grief he needs to see out. And so he does with lush strings (arranged by his father), gently crescendoing pianos (especially on the Nick Drake-esque Heart Is a Drum) and acoustic guitar in which you can hear the twang of each string. Despite the lyrical themes, the record's sun-dappled shimmer suggests Beck sees a way out of his emotional hole. The bad news for him is that being in it seems to make for some of his best music” – The Guardian   

6. Modern Guilt


Release Date: 8th July, 2008

Labels: DGC/XL (U.K. and E.U.)

Producers: Danger Mouse; Beck

Standout Track: Soul of a Man


But some of the experiments that dare to fail big also feel the freshest: “Modern Guilt” reinvents the Doors‘ “People Are Strange” as a shuffling midtempo beatnik ballad — and, somehow, it works.

That last song sums up Beck’s biggest issue on the album: “Don’t know what I’ve done, but I feel ashamed.” That’s modern guilt for you: knowing the world’s going to hell and feeling partly responsible, but not quite knowing what to do about it. “Some days, we’re worse than you can imagine/And how am I supposed to live with that?” he sings on “Walls.” A few lines later, he finds his own reason to carry on: “We do the best with the souls we’re given.” And not long after he sings these words, the song cuts out abruptly in the middle of the melody. Like Tony Soprano said, you never know when your time is gonna come” – Rolling Stone

5. Midnite Vultures


Release Date: 23rd November, 1999

Label: DGC

Producers: Beck Hansen; Dust Brothers; Tony Hoffer and Mickey Petralia

Standout Track: Sexx Laws


'Midnite Vultures' is bound to entrench opinions on both sides of the Beck divide. The doubters will recoil from its myriad layers of self-knowledge and the fact that the author's tongue is almost permanently lodged in one cheek or another. But just because this isn't a conventional dose of 'reality' doesn't mean Beck can't be sincere, and the force of character laid bare here is quite an awesome thing to behold. Narrower in scope than 'Odelay' but more immediate in impact, it's clearly been conceived as an accompaniment to our hedonistic habit of choice, the last great party album of the millennium. And like a certain song says, parties weren't meant to last” – NME

4. Mellow Gold


Release Date: 1st March, 1994

Label: DGC

Producers: Beck Hansen; Tom Rothcock; Rob Schnapf and Carl Stephenson

Standout Track: Loser


Since Mellow Gold was pieced together from home-recorded tapes, it lacks a coherent production, functioning more as a stylistic sampler: there are the stoner raps of "Loser" and "Beercan," the urban folk of "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)," the mock-industrial onslaught of "Mutherfuker," the garagey "Fuckin' With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)," the trancy acoustic "Blackhole," and the gently sardonic folk-rock of "Nitemare Hippy Girl." It's a dizzying demonstration of musical skills, yet it's all tied together by a simple yet clever sense of songcraft and a truly original lyrical viewpoint, one that's basic yet as colorful as free verse. By blending boundaries so thoroughly and intoxicatingly, Mellow Gold established a new vein of alternative rock, one that was fueled by ideas instead of attitude” – AllMusic  

3. Sea Change


Release Date: 24th September, 2002  

Label: Geffen

Producer: Nigel Godrich

Standout Track: Sunday Sun


The clarity of his crisis has a lot to do with the naked strength of Beck’s singing. For someone who started out as a teenage folk hobo — just voice and strum — Beck has rarely walked this far out in front of the music on his own records. And considering his eternal-high-school looks, he possesses a surprisingly manly tenor, a clean, deep instrument of lust and worry. It fills the big spaces in Nigel Godrich’s haunted production — the backward-tape buzz in “Lost Cause”; the desert-Bach air of the keyboards in “Nothing I Haven’t Seen” — with the combined pathos of Nick Drake, the solo, freaked-out Syd Barrett and the John Lennon of Plastic Ono Band. When Beck and Godrich pour on the Indo-Beatles chaos in “Sunday Sun” — ghostly pounding piano and not-so-unison guitar; a meltdown coda of drums and distortion — you can still hear Beck’s resignation and unsteady resurrection inside the song” – AllMusic

2. Guero


Release Date: 29th March, 2005  

Label: Interscope

Producers: Beck Hansen; Dust Brothers and Tony Hoffer

Standout Track: Earthquake Weather


From there, Beck darts around the musical map like an animated flea, springing from the low-riding chicano funk of "Que Onda Guero" to the summery pop of "Girl" and the itchy bossa nova of "Missing", whose infectious Tropicalismo tone is streaked with Eastern-flavoured strings orchestrated by Beck's father, the arranger David Campbell. The song's reflections on the essential patchwork incompleteness of life - "Something always takes the place of missing pieces/ You can take and put together/ Even though you know there's something missing" - are no less applicable to his own work, which typically makes unorthodox wholes from diverse fragments.

Examples are legion here: the gulp of harmonica, breakbeat drums, babble and scratch that form the groove of "Hell Yes"; the lolloping, late-period Sly Stone-style groove of "Go It Alone", in which furtive electric piano peeks out tentatively from behind Jack White's limber bassline; the bang-in-fashion Eighties indie stylings of "Send a Message to Her"; and the darker combination of piano and bottleneck guitar in "Broken Drum". Most impressive of all is the engaging mélange of choogling clavinet and squally lead guitar that is "Earthquake Weather".

Death casts its cadaverous shadow over a few tracks, most notably the sombre "Farewell Ride", as Beck contemplates his own departure, with "Two white horses in a line/ Carry[ing] me to my burying ground". For all the superior production standards, it's a sentiment that could have come off 1994's hip-hop-folk-blues oddity One Foot in the Grave, suggesting that Beck's character remains essentially unchanged by a decade of success” – The Independent

1. Odelay


Release Date: 18th June, 1996  

Label: DGC

Producers: Beck Hansen; Dust Brothers; Mario Caldato Jr.; Brian Paulson; Tom Rothcock and Rob Schnapf

Standout Track: Where It’s At


For Odelay, his second major-label outing (since Mellow Gold he has released two discs on indie labels), Beck has enlisted the Dust Brothers, the producers responsible for the smorgasbord of tasty, left-field samples on the Beastie Boys’ seminal Paul’s Boutique. The result: a pastiche of twangy country licks, hip-hop beats, surrealistic folk, jive-turkey rap, and samples (from Tchaikovsky to the Frogs) that further affirms Beck’s rock-chameleon identity.

Beck’s got a lot going for him beyond his wide-ranging musical interests. Primary among his virtues is an 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,” the finest of his many country-funk inventions. Ultimately, what holds all Beck’s work together is his arch, whacked-out street poetry. Whether reminiscing about a rough-hewn club (”A place we saw, the lights turned low/With the jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow”) or philosophizing about settling down (”I dropped my anchor in the dead of night/Unpacked my suitcase and threw it away”), Beck maintains a perfect balance of hip disaffectedness and depth of feeling. And that’s why he’s no loser, baby” – Entertainment Weekly