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.
Today we arrive at another of those ‘Oddball’ misfits whose music I enjoy despite the fact that it sounds like nothing else in my collection.
Beck defies categorization not just among my musical preferences but in general. Early in his career, he blended an alternative singer-songwriter style with hip-hop and electronica, but was just as comfortable releasing an acoustic folk album. He followed the kaleidoscopic pastiche of Odelay with the somber mope balladry of Mutations, then shifted gears again with the dance party of Midnite Vultures.
Two years after Odelay took the music world by storm, Beck released a low-key, acoustic album that featured none of the kitchen-sink experimentation for which he’d become known. Mutations is a mix of straight-forward country, blues and folk songs (with a tropicalia tune appropriately named ‘Tropicalia’ thrown in for good measure) and it was the first indication of exactly how versatile a songwriter Beck is.
Mutations is a decidedly downbeat album, filled with songs about loneliness and despair. Here’s a typical lyric, from the song ‘Dead Melodies’: “Night birds will cackle, rotting like apples on trees, sending their dead melodies to me.” This isn’t the last time Beck would wallow in beautiful misery on record… it’s something he excels at and would return to on his best album (which I’ll get to soon enough).