14 Years Ago: Beck’s ‘Midnite Vultures’ Album Released
Depending on how you slice up Beck’s discography, ‘Midnite Vultures,’ from 1999, is either his fourth or seventh album. (Those way-below-the-radar indie records he quietly released with the major-league ones can be tricky.) Either way, alt-rock’s resident oddball’s funkiest and funniest LP came out a year after ‘Mutations,’ a super-serious homage to Brazilian tropicalia music that, following 1996’s terrific, genre-busting ‘Odelay,’ was a major comedown. ‘Midnite Vultures,’ which celebrates its 14th anniversary today, set things right.
Loaded with synths, horns, strings and choirs (and, um, pedal steel and banjo), ‘Midnite Vultures’ was an R&B album the way ‘Odelay’ was a hip-hop record – in other words, it totally messed with the music’s conventions, twisting them for its own purpose and delight. On songs like ‘Sexx Laws,’ ‘Nicotine & Gravy’ and ‘Mixed Bizness,’ Beck and his crew (which included everyone from Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to electronic-folk singer Beth Orton to ‘Odelay’ producers the Dust Brothers) drop beats like Prince and jokes like Eddie Murphy.
But Beck saved his best and funniest joke for the end. In ‘Debra,’ inspired by countless ‘80s slow jams, he steps up to a girl with a pack of gum in his hand and an invitation to take a ride in his Hyundai to get some food. Then he goes in for the kill, proposing a threesome with her sister, whose name he can’t remember (but he thinks might be Debra). Beck’s Princely falsetto seals the deal.
Even though it’s a better album than ‘Mutations,’ and much closer to ‘Odelay’’s playful spirit, ‘Midnite Vultures’ didn’t sell as well as its predecessor. The record stalled at No. 34 but eventually went gold. ‘Sexx Laws’ and ‘Mixed Bizness’ received some modern-rock airplay, but nowhere near the time ‘Odelay’’s most popular cuts logged.
After ‘Midnite Vultures,’ Beck took a three-year break. When he returned, he had shifted tone and style once again, this time playing a sensitive singer-songwriter with a bunch of breakup songs on ‘Sea Change’ (which finally gave him hist first Top 10 album). Since then, he’s mixed the serious with the jokey, putting more focus on the overall sound of the records. ‘Midnite Vultures’ remains his friskiest genre exercise, a soulful goof that sounds remarkably like the real thing at times.
Watch Beck’s Video for ‘Sexx Laws’