Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Midnite Bastard

It's time for fun! Stephen Thomas Erlewine has a vendetta against Midnite Vultures. Why? I'm sure that there must be something lacking in the music, something specific. Surely he won't find a tiny element of the record annoying and then hate the whole durn thing as a result. Let's find out!

By calling the muted psychedelic folk-rock, blues, and Tropicalia of
Mutations a stopgap, Beck set expectations for Midnight Vultures unreasonably high.

EXPECTATIONS. There it is, the ultimate red flag in a review, and S.T. Erlewine shies not away from this beast, but beckons it forth. Let it be known that Mutations was NEVER called a stopgap record. He wanted to record another album for his old label, Bong Load, and did so, cutting the whole thing in two weeks with Nigel Godrich. The album sounded so good that DGC, his current label demanded that they be able to release under their name as well. And then the critics invented this idea that Mutations was not the true sequel to Odelay because it wasn't a patchwork collection of sample-heavy tunes. This is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Ironically, Midnite Vultures doesn't feel like a sequel to Odelay -- it's a genre exercise, like Mutations.

God damn it, this isn't ironic, it's true! The reason it doesn't FEEL like the sequel is because it IS NOT the sequel! The sequel to Odelay is Mutations you hack! Also, the reason we all love Beck is that he hops from sound to sound, never satisfied with comfort (although recently, he's toeing the sound-alike line). Last time I checked, Mutations was a folk record. Erlewine calls it a genre exercise. So, when Led Zeppelin made III, that was just a genre exercise, not a folk album. And when Captain Beefheart recorded Trout Mask Replica, that was just a dalliance with musical extremism, not an avant-garde rock album. God, I hate this review soooooooooooooooooo much!

This time, Beck delves into soul, funk, and hip-hop, touching on everything from Stax/Volt to No Limit but using Prince as his home base. He's eschewed samples, more or less, but not the aesthetic.

Pretty spot on with the sound, except Beck's fascination with electronic music, which is heavily favored on this album. Also, you're wrong about the samples. On Midnite Vultures Beck sampled his own band and sketches and then incorporated the samples into the songs. So, yeah, you're pretty wrong, which is why the sampling aesthetic remains.

Even when a song is reminiscent of a particular style, it's assembled in strange, exciting ways. As it kicks off with "Sexx Laws," it's hard not to get caught up in the rush, and "Nicotine & Gravy" carries on the vibe expertly, as does the party jam "Mixed Bizness" and the full-on electro workout "Get Real Paid," an intoxicating number that sounds like a Black Album reject. So far, so good -- the songs are tight, catchy, and memorable, the production dense.

Pretty good, only I feel like there's something wrong here. Something really pissed off S.T Erlewine before he even started this review...

Then comes "Hollywood Freaks."

There it is. Let's see what he hates about this one song on the album.

The self-conscious gangsta goof is singularly irritating, not least because of Beck's affected voice. It's the first on Midnite Vultures to feel like a parody, and it's such an awkward, misguided shift in tone that it colors the rest of the album.

OK, there is a lot of things that offend me in these two sentences. Where to begin?

First off, Beck's music is the opposite of self-conscious. Especially this song, which is a really funny track anyways. It's a joke, what's wrong with that. I have fond memories of yelling lyrics of this song in my high school hallway, and getting shouts back. A slice of the lyrics:

"Norman Schwartzkopf, something tells me you want to go home"
"Automatic bzooty, zero to tutti fruitti
Sex in the halls, Niagara Falls
Local shopping malls receive
Anonymous calls"

How are you not supposed to laugh at that? I guess when you're S.T. Erlewine, and you don't want Beck to have fun or make fun of himself. Zero to tutti fruitti? That's gold right there, gold. Not to mention the beat underneath, which is a slammin' Dust Bros. track. Remember them Erlewine, the guys who helped produce your favorite Beck album, Odelay? Well, you're criticizing the one track that they worked on. Why are you so fucking confusing?

Tributes now sound like send-ups, allusions that once seemed affectionate feel snide, and the whole thing comes off as a little jive.

Holy shit, one single track on this album ruined it for Erlewine. Now he wants to ruin the whole record for you. Isn't that nice? He's making Beck out to be a some kind of high-and-mighty diva who hates his fans. Awful awful awful. Can't a guy record some music that's in his head? Isn't it possible that Beck wanted us to have fun after the somber grandeur of Mutations? I'll put my money on the fun, Erlewine.

Musically, Midnite Vultures is filled with wonderful little quirks, but these are undercut by the sneaking suspicion that for all the ingenuity, it's just a hipster joke.

I know I've already said it, but, this is awful. People who are getting into Beck are going to be turned the fuck off of this record because of a "sneaking suspicion." Also, hipster joke? This review is a fucking hipster joke.

Humor has always been a big part of Beck's music, but it was gloriously absurd, never elitist. Here, it's delivered with a smug smirk, undercutting whatever joy the music generates.

Alright, quit it already Erlewine, now you're just lashing out for no reason. Beck made the record he wanted to make. You didn't like it, and instead of figuring out why, you just lashed out using false truths and slander.

Please listen to Midnite Vultures. The first side is hilarious and fun, while the second half lags a little bit. Still, given Beck's refusal to be boring, the sonics alone are worth it, as well as Jonny Marrs' mystery appearance. I'd give it 4 stars out of 5, instead of Erlewine's baffling 3 out of 5.


Shatraw said...

eh, this is my least favorite beck album until guero. i agree with some of erlewine's points, actually. to me, midnite vultures is more of a joke than a genre exercise. but whatever. i just don't particularly care for it, all posturing aside.

i also prefer mellow gold, mutations and sea change... so i clearly have a preference in what kind of beck i like to hear. although the information is pretty likable.

J. Temperance said...

guero was a waste of time. after about 2 listens sea changes was just a watered-down mutations. mellow gold is pretty great.

the secret song on mutations kills me every time.

Mattie-O said...

Guero was a bit shit, yeah, but the production, o lord the production! That's a fine sounding record I tell ya.

Ever the contrarian, I think MV is probably my favorite Beck joint. And Sea Change, but that you need to have recently broken up with your lady to really get into. Never really got down with Odelay or Mutations, sorry to say.

The bright side of all this is that sometimes Allmusic will revisit a particularly crummo review, such as when AEnima suddenly went from a 3 star stinker to a 4.5 star band-definer (I attribute this to the negative energy projected through my skull in into the internets everytime I read it).

J. Temperance said...

To clarify, my main problem with his review is that it fails as a follow up to "Odelay". Don't even get me started on "The Information"...