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Beck Takes Quirkiness to New, High-Tech Level

****, BECK, "Odelay", DGC

June 16, 1996|Sara Scribner

When "Loser" lurched onto the airwaves in 1994, everyone dismissed Beck Hansen as a one-hit weirdo. He was a junk-culture archivist who used radio static, blurpy old organs, kooky, Dylanesque poetry and TV ads with a funky, democratic touch. This childlike Silver Lake folkie seemed doomed to the same pop junk-heap in which he rummaged.

No longer.

On his second major-label album, L.A.'s Dust Brothers (of the Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique" fame), have helped the singer make the leap from eight-track to high-tech studio without losing any quirkiness. "Odelay" is a highly polished, accessible concoction that buzzes with frothy static, chugging acoustic blues, basement hip-hop and '70s soul.

Most of the album inhabits a world that could only be inspired by Los Angeles--a place where Indian ragas mingle with fuzzbox disco, where ancient blues emanate from CD-ROMs, where a dispossessed cowboy call would be drowned out by police choppers. The India-inspired "Derelict," the strange blues of "Jack-ass" and the countryfied "Lord Only Knows" are Beck's best shots at pinpointing this nether world, one so serious that it's hard to take seriously, a lovely, disposable cultural shipwreck.

But Beck also pops off with something so hopeful it's downright frightening coming from someone so prone to irony: "I'm the enchanting wizard of rhythm. I've come to tell you about the enchanting rhythms of the universe." It's a goof, but in a way he has done just that. Then there's the lyrical cornerstone of "Lord Only Knows": "I'm pickin' up the pieces and I'm puttin' them up for sale." Indeed, Beck wants to sample--and sell--the world's castoffs. "Odelay" proves once and for all that he can turn his product into fine art.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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