Beck – Mutations
Beck – Mutations
If Mutations doesn’t sound like a follow-up to Odelay, it’s because it wasn’t meant to be. It was initially designed as another specialty release like One Foot In The Grave, but given the success of Odelay, the presence of producer Nigel Godrich (who was hot off of Radiohead’s acclaimed OK Computer) and the quality of the record, Geffen decided to release Mutations itself. Despite its major-label release, Mutations doesn’t sound particularly commercial—it’s a record of psychedelic folk, rock and blues, with hints of country and Brazilian music. At the same time, though, it’s not defiantly underground the way Beck’s first two indie releases were either. There’s a real warmth in the music here, something that, up until this point, only surfaced rarely on Beck records. Godrich’s production helps achieve this tone, finding just the right pitch between slick and ragged, making the record sound crisp yet human. But it’s not just Godrich: Mutations marks the first album where Beck entered the studio with a full backing band. The result is an inviting and nuanced record, one that is deeper than it initially appears. For his part, Beck turns in a stellar set, including some of the most affecting songs he’s ever penned, such as the somber psychedelia of “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” the underrated alt-rock classic “Cold Brains,” and the sighing “We Live Again.” And for an album whose title pays tribute to the influential Brazilian group Os Mutantes, it comes as no surprise Beck dips into bossa nova with the sprightly “Tropicalia,” one of the best songs here. Lyrically, he opens up a bit more than in the past, often leaving behind his trademark non sequiters for a kind of elegiac, even morose, poetry that fits the directness of the music. But for all his talk of doom and gloom, Mutations never despairs, and it really isn’t a downer, not when the musicians conjure such a relaxed atmosphere with such offhanded charm. Although, to an extent, the sound of Mutations is a product of the 1990s, the songs, performances and styles explored here make it feel timeless, the mark of a very good record by any measure.