Beck’s Mellow Gold dropped twenty years ago next week. Your parents probably should have hated it, but even if they noticed that you were listening to it on your Discman (the one with the duct tape) or your friend’s bedroom speakers, they probably didn’t. The whole album exemplifies a seriously unwholesome, unprofitable, ingenuous obsession with American music, one so brilliant it doesn’t matter that Beck himself is a Scientologist.
Lemme tell you about this stoner incunabulum. It embodies titular excellence (“Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997”; “Truck-Drivin’ Neighbors Downstairs”). It can do a shambling impression of radio pop (“Loser”). Sometimes it’s like a classic-R&B listening party hosted by an affable sex maniac. Its version of avant-garde garage rap (“Soul-Suckin’ Jerk”) sounds sort of like the Beastie Boys, but it’s not imitative; and it foreshadows some of the big singles from Odelay a couple years later. As such, it’s also the scene of some great light verse, as in “Nitemare Hippie Girl,” a cogent warning about “mystical, tragical beaut[ies]” that all young heterosexual men in America should heed, especially if they are still in college or less than, say, three years past graduation and living in some expensive coastal city: “She’s a magical, sparkling tease, / She’s a rainbow choking the breeze; / She’s bustin out onto the scene / With nightmare bogus poe-try. / She’s a melted avocado on the shelf, / She’s a science of herself.” (It goes on from there. Cf. the Manic Pixie Dream Girl narrative. Girls, the guy version of this might be this guy.) There is some lush, narco-ambient stuff (e.g. “Black Hole”) that points toward Beck’s downer classic Sea Change (2002) and groups like Animal Collective. (I keep thinking of Skip Spence, too. We are not worthy.) It includes the best Neil Young and Bob Dylan parodies you will ever find.
The weirdest thing about this album? It got to #13 on the US Billboard chart. For the whole America! Kinda doubt it would move that many units in 2014. You saw the Super Bowl halftime show, right? It would still be a goofy late-capitalist gem, though. Here’s “Fuckin’ With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock),” my favorite track on Mellow Gold. You might have to watch a stupid ad first. I’m sorry.
As a literature person who runs a blog and borrows large parts of his musical tastes from more knowledgeable friends, I feel confident making broad predictions about the media market while assessing various albums. I’m savin’ up my food stamps and burnin’ down the trailer park. Have a good weekend, y’all.