With so many greats in the world of music passing and so much new talent coming from the Internet for their 15 minutes, it’s fair to wonder who will be the ones to adapt to the times and stay around to make a life’s worth of music. With much of the ‘90s crowd broken up, re-branded or withered into obscurity, it may seem like Radiohead is one of the only to continue to put out records whenever they want, using whatever instruments they want and charging whatever they want. But they wouldn’t be alone because Beck has shown that he can go from country, to rock and roll, to funk, and create records that ebb and flow with the emotional current of tears (Morning Phase).
Breaking out with “Loser”, Beck created an anthem for the disenfranchised youth of suburban America with a catchy chorus, rapped verse and a drum sample from “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” by Johnny Jenkins. Shortly after “Loser”, his record Odelay would get the Grammy for best alternative music performance and earn him respect that would be sustained when Morning Phase was given the Grammy for Album of the Year, despite having the lowest sales numbers of any record in its category. With its soft drums, echo-chamber vocals and atmospheric approach that answered what it would sound like if Cocteau Twins produce an alt-country record, Morning Phase repeated themes from Sea Change but in a way that was new and it worked more cohesively song to song.
Since then, Beck has released two singles. In June of 2015, the funky song “Dreams” came out with a sound that caught the drift of MGMT so closely that it would have come off as plagiary if it wasn’t such a perfect piece of cotton candy pop. Now, Beck takes on the ubiquitous sound of modern party pop-rap built around a minimal amount of looped samples, rapped verses and enthusiastic choruses. On paper, it sounds as odd and uncharacteristic as “Dreams”, but god-damn-it if Beck doesn’t show Iggy Azalea, Nikki Manaj and all the other twitter-feuding rap/pop personalities how to do it right.
It’s hard to miss Beck’s sense of humor when listening to the lyrics of songs in Odelay and Midnight Vultures. Because of that, it’s impossible to know if he’s seriously interested in making music in different styles or if he’s just deconstructs the skeleton of modern sounds to see if he can’t build a better one. From the very beginning, a tone that travels like a slide whistle makes a listener wonder if it’s Beck or some weird joke. The slide whistle loops, a kick drum comes in and Beck’s “Giddy Up, Giddy Up” queues a drum roll and click track beat for the whistle to spin around. Then, Beck starts to rap all over it: “Wanna move into a fool’s gold room / With my pulse on the animal jewels / Of the rules that you choose to use to get loose / With the luminous moves / Bored of these limits, let me get, let me get it like,” before the repeated chorus of: Wow! / It’s like right now / It’s like wow!”
By the time the second verse/set of bars finish with “Standing on the lawn doin’ jiu jitsu / Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu”, it’s obvious Beck still has his sense of humor. Soon, the chorus’s “it’s like wow” becomes the only appropriate reaction to the song itself because you realize Beck’s doing what he does best—working around genres in spite of their limitations and with their cliches, which he includes with an uplifting message that turns the song into summer anthem gold: “It’s your life/You gotta try to get it right/Look around, don’t forget where you came from/It’s just another perfect night/We’re gonna take it around the world.”
Is Beck playing with styles that people would never guess interest him for the fun of it? Is he focused on creating one summer hit after the other? Is he just seeing if he can change with the times? It’s unclear. What is for certain is that Beck doesn’t seem to be slowing down and doesn’t have any trouble keeping up with the rest of the airwaves.