Beck The Chameleon

Musical chameleon Beck has been putting out albums for over 20 years. Any and every kind of style from banjo folk to hi-tech hip hop, blurring the lines between all genres and offering a fresh take on each form. People also like to use the word “pastiche” a lot. Here’s a sampling of the smorgasbord of sounds he struts in.

Mellow Gold, opens a new window (1994)

Besides the MTV staple “Loser” there’s some great songs ranging from the disco jam “Beercan” the slow jam “Steal My Body Home” and comic “Nitemare Hippy Girl”. This album also spawned many great b-sides that are worth seeking out if you want some deeper cuts from this era.


One of three released in 1994, this might be one the best and most underrated albums by Beck. Recorded around the same time as Mellow Gold, but independently released, this collection of downtrodden lo-fi folk tunes recorded in a basement are some of the most compelling songs he’s written.

Odelay, opens a new window (1996)

With platinum album sales and Grammy nods, this is probably Beck’s most well-known album. It’s also one of his most cohesive. It mainly stays in the hip-hop vein but brings some experimental sounds into the mix courtesy of the Dust Brothers who had a helping hand with the now classic Paul’s Boutique, opens a new window by the Beastie Boys, opens a new window.

Mutations , opens a new window(1998)

Hunkering down with his touring band for a week, Beck recorded these songs with Nigel Godrich, opens a new window. There’s a lot of twee folksy whimsy on here with all the acoustic guitars and the harpsichord and of course, the ubiquitous glockenspiel. The B-sides are also worth seeking out as they are even better than what was on released on the album.

Midnite Vultures , opens a new window(1999)

What a party this is! Criminally overlooked (probably ‘cause everyone was re-jamming Prince and freaking out about Y2K) this is one of my favorites by anybody. There ain’t no bad moods on this album. If anything, it probably suffers from the kitchen-sink effect where it has just about everything possible stuffed into each track. From Scruggs’ style banjo to P-Diddy lyrical blabbering it’s all here. Definitely funky.


This is the last album I’ve really liked. Some great tunes and lyrics like “Lord, don’t forsake me in Mercedes Benz” to the awesome cover idea, to the great videos for each song. It borrows a bit on past themes and feels like a lost album. Helmed by Nigel Godrich (probably to its detriment), but this one is worth checking out a time or two.

Of course, there are some other albums like Stereo Pathetic Soul Manure, opens a new window and some strummy sad albums that frankly sound boring compared to his other output. There’s also some early demos that are worth seeking out and listening to the sonic evolution of Beck.

Author: Kyle Knight

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