I’m a big fan of both of these guys, so I’ll try to keep the hipness factor out of my vote. I realize that appreciating John Mayer is not great for my street cred, but I think anybody who dismisses his musical chops or his songwriting ability is mistaken. Sure, the guy can be a smug prick and some of his songs veer too close to maudlin, but so many more are spot-on.
While we wait patiently for Beck’s 13th studio album, his first since 2014’s Grammy-winning Morning Phase, let’s enjoy a blast from the past in the form of ‘Peaches & Cream,’ a cut from his 1999 album Midnite Vultures.
Midnite Vultures, released in the midst of Y2K paranoia, before we lost our national innocence on 9/11, is a blissed-out vision of white boy funk on which Beck very effectively channels Prince.
Beck’s 1998 album Mutations remains one of my favorites. It’s a ramshackle, melancholy collection that proved to be a precursor to the lovely, sad-sack classics, Sea Change and Morning Phase, to come in the decades that followed.
Mutations isn’t as polished as those albums but it’s beautifully produced, sustaining an uneasy, almost post-apocalyptic, mood. It’s the soundtrack of the Earth depicted in the first half of WALL-E.
‘Wow’ is a world away from the Beck of Morning Phase and Sea Change, a lot closer to Odelay and Midnite Vultures. The brilliance of Beck is that he seems equally comfortable in both modes. Not many artists can pull off both soulful balladeer and space-age DJ.
Yes, he is relatively prolific. I own nine of his albums and 99 of his songs. But I feel like he shows up in the random mix more often than those numbers would suggest.
My #1 album of 2002 showed up in the top spot of plenty of critics’ lists as well. Beck’s Sea Change was just that, a complete change of direction for an artist better known for hip-hop beats and stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
This album, inspired by the end of a relationship, supports the theory that heartbreak is often the best muse. Beck is in full wallow mode here, drowning his sad-sack lyrics in waves of ambient strings and acoustic guitar.