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Instant Expert: Beck

Beck
Jonathan Wood, Getty Images

You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Beck.


Scott Gries, Getty Images
Scott Gries, Getty Images

The Gist

 
 

Beck Hansen had already released two albums of hipster folk, slacker hip-hop and performance art-style indie rock when he scored an unexpected Top 10 hit with 'Loser' in 1994. After 1996's genre-busting 'Odelay,' he pretty much was given the freedom to make any kind of record he wanted. So he has -- from Brazilian pop ('Mutations') to funky R&B ('Midnite Vultures') to sensitive singer-songwriter ('Sea Change') to straight-up alternative rock ('Modern Guilt'). You never know what you're getting with a Beck album, and that's a good thing. His latest release is a book of sheet music for new songs that encourages fans to make their own music.

 
Beck Odelay

Critical Consensus

 
 

Following the surprise success of 1994's 'Mellow Gold,' Beck returned two years later with 'Odelay,' featuring his best set of songs packaged in his wildest beats, most supplied by the Dust Brothers, who created the Beastie Boys' 1989 masterpiece 'Paul's Boutique.' It's a mind-blowing trip and one of the '90s best records.

 
Beck Mellow Gold

Contrarian Counterargument

 
 

There were no expectations when Beck released his major-label debut (and third album overall) in 1994. Even though 'Loser' was a hit, the rest of the album is wild, weird and unchained -- just the way we like him.

 
Beck Sea Change

Counter-counterargument

 
 

Beck was recovering from a painful breakup when he made his 2002 singer-songwriter album 'Sea Change.' It's all reflective ballads and gently strummed acoustic guitars. It's Beck at his most personal, revealing and grown-up.

 
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

 
 

He's got no flow.

 

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