relief release from work so I’m heading to the gym for a quick He-man session with the heavy iron. This evening’s listening pleasure is the ‘Mutations‘ album by Beck.
‘Mutations’ is the 3rd studio album and 6th overall, released in 1998 on DGC Records. Though less commercially successful than the preceding ‘Odelay‘, this is the album that established the established the Beckster as an eclectic and innovative artist for his sample-free mixture of far-ranging musical genres, including folk rock, bossa nova, psychedelia, country, and blues. The album even won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.
Isn’t that nice?
There’s little question though that with the blues, country, psych, bossa nova, and folk that comprise it, ‘Mutations‘ was never meant to be a commercial endeavor – there’s no floor-shaker like ‘Where It’s At‘, and it doesn’t trade in the junk culture that brought ‘Odelay‘ to life. Recording with his touring band – marking the first time he has entered the studio with a live band –does result in a different sound, but it’s not so much a departure as it is a side road that is going in the same direction.
None of the songs explore new territory, but they’re rich, lyrically and musically. There’s an off-the-cuff wit to the songwriting, especially on ‘Canceled Check‘ and ‘Bottle of Blues‘, and the performances are natural, relaxed, and laid-back, without ever sounding complacent. In fact, one of the nifty tricks of ‘Mutations‘ is how it sounds simple upon the first listen, then reveals more psychedelic layers upon each play. Beck is not only a startling songwriter – his best songs are simultaneously modern and timeless – he is a sharp record-maker, crafting albums that sound distinct and original, no matter how much they may borrow. In its own quiet, organic way, ‘Mutations‘ confirms this as much as either ‘Mellow Gold‘ (my particular favorite) or ‘Odelay‘.
Having said that, this was likely not the best album for a manly-man’s workout at the gym. In fact, it’s kind of pussy. Sure, this was the first Beck album I ever owned and I did listen to it a buttload number of time and, yes, it is excellent. But I was doing a lot more drugs back then than lifting weights so with hindsight being 20/20, I should have chosen something with a little more testicular fortitude than artsy-fartsy appeal.