Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Beck: Midnite Vultures

The multi-talented Beck Hansen has an uncanny ability to squirm out of any artistic pigeonhole in which he finds himself. Anyone who sees him primarily as the Gen-X poster boy of "Loser," or even the cut-and-paste artist of Odelay, is behind the times. Those impressions, after all, can be attributed more to the media than Beck himself, who remains elusive and consistent at the center of it all. That's at least partly the result of Beck's ability to funnel just about any style of music into his own creations, as last year's rich, organic Mutations proved. If that record was largely about finding subtlety and delicacy in Beck's trademark pastiche style, the new Midnite Vultures takes the opposite approach. An entertainingly excessive album, its libidinous funk mosaic finds Beck coming on like a master of ceremonies overseeing a sci-fi orgy. On "Nicotine & Gravy," Beck promises, "I'll feed you fruit that don't exist / I'll leave graffiti where you've never been kissed," inventing seductive invitations that never occurred to Barry White. A sex album meant to affect senses above the neck as much as below the waist, Midnite Vultures pairs Beck's R&B love-man shtick (so over-the-top as to be almost cereberal) with a full-band sound, layering its beats with everything from pounding bass to new-wave keyboards to Johnny Marr's guitar to, on more than one occasion, a banjo. It's simultaneously funny and funky, at once musically engaging and a continuation of Beck's mind-twisting campaign of musical appropriation. What exactly does it mean when a scrawny white guy promises to "make all the lesbians scream" on an album that borrows heavily from three decades of black music? There's no easy way to answer to that question, or to describe this relentlessly entertaining record. It might be better just to enjoy it for what it is and rest assured that the next one will sound nothing like it.


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