17 Years Ago: Beck’s ‘Odelay’ Album Released
Beck came out of the great record-company rush of 1994, when modern rock was pegged as music’s next big thing. Even though he had released a pair of indie albums before ‘Mellow Gold’ put him on the map, it was that major-label offering, and especially its breakthrough lead single ‘Loser,’ that made the 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles one of the year’s bright spots. But ‘Mellow Gold,’ for all of its wild and inventive twists and turns through folk, pop, country, rock and low-fi, only scraped the surface of Beck’s expanded imagination.
For his proper follow-up to ‘Mellow Gold,’ Beck enlisted producers the Dust Brothers to construct a sonic landscape similar to the one they laid out on the Beastie Boys’ classic ‘Paul’s Boutique’ in 1989. Working with a similar template of scratchy old samples and dusty beats that sounded like hip-hop field recordings at times, the Dust Brothers presented Beck with ‘Odelay’’s whiplashing foundation. Beck did the rest.
And he didn’t stay in one place for it. From the whirring alt-rock of opener ‘Devils Haircut’ and retro groove of ‘The New Pollution’ to the somber bluesy folk of ‘Jack-Ass’ and the chugging Cali-funk of ‘Sissyneck,’ ‘Odelay’ spills over with great songs and even better ideas. And then there’s ‘Where It’s At,’ the album’s centerpiece and a marvel of old-school patchwork, as the Dust Brothers thread together a string of samples beneath Beck’s surreal, rambling lines (though not nearly as surreal or as rambling as those found in ‘Loser’). It’s a pivotal mid-‘90s work.
‘Odelay,’ which celebrates its 17th anniversary today, debuted at No. 16 and has since become Beck’s biggest seller, moving more than 2 million copies since its release. ‘Where It’s At’ and ‘The New Pollution’ both made it to the modern-rock Top 10, with the former also making it to No. 61 on the pop chart. Beck has since played around even more with genres, shifting from tropicalia on his next LP to R&B, acoustic singer-songwriter and electronic excursions over the next decade. But none come together quite as effortlessly or as brilliantly as ‘Odelay,’ his masterpiece and one the best albums on the ‘90s.