Beck is the poster child of music in the 1990s. He is detached and dripping with irony. He picks and chooses from different styles, making new music out of them. He has gone from making loser be a cool label to being a pimp and a player on his new album, Midnite Vultures (Geffen Records). His latest album is the official follow-up to the critically acclaimed Odelay!.
You notice Beck’s love of retro as soon as you pick up the album. From the ugly neon green colors to people donning pink vinyl pants and sporting big afros, the CD case drips with the 1970s.
The music also is a throwback to the old days. Beck looks to classic funk and soul artists such as Parliament, James Brown and Prince as influences, and their presence can be felt throughout the album. The opener and first single is Sexx Laws. It’s a strange choice for the debut single because it’s one of the weakest songs on the album. Beck sounds as if he’s trying to combine funk and Nashville, with a scratch guitar on one side and a Southern twang, steel guitar and banjo on the other.
Deeper into the album, Midnite Vultures picks up considerably. Nicotine and Gravy has a sleazy, cruisin’-in-a-big-Caddy feel to it. It just makes you want to get up and strut. In songs such as Get Real Paid and Mixed Bizness, Prince should be raking in the royalties because they’re almost perfect knock-offs of the Artist Formally Known As. Get Real Paid perfectly mimics the computerized feminine voice from Prince’s Computer Blue. To Beck’s credit, he does a great job ripping things off. These songs are filled with great beats and different electronic sounds that merge together to make perfect party songs.
As good as the music sounds, Beck needs to find someone to write lyrics for him. The words almost are put in as after-thoughts. Many of them sound like he’s just stringing together series of words that rhyme. I think we’re going crazy/Her left eye is lazy/She looks so Israeli/Nicotine and Gravy. Needless to say, Beck won’t be winning prizes for poetry anytime soon. However, most people won’t care too much about the words. They will be too busy getting down.
On the surface, Midnite Vultures is an incredibly fun album. It will surely be on thousands of stereos on New Year’s Eve. But, the more you listen to it, the more its one major flaw shines through.
The music on Midnite Vultures, while looking back to 1970s legends, lacks the spark those bands had. When James Brown or Prince hit their prime, they made music that took you to another place. Beck just skates on the surface of that. Instead of having any real feeling or any soul, it is all plastic. His inability to evoke emotion keeps Beck from attaining the level of his influences.
In the end, Midnite Vultures is like a one-night stand. You’ll have a good time there, but you’ll forget all about it in the morning.