Prior to Odelay’s 1996 release, Los Angeleno Beck Hansen was an unlikely one-hit wonder with a crit-friendly, Dylan-esque backstory, a major-label deal, evocative, wholesale lyrical obfuscation, and a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights expression that belied his wan ambitions. Since Odelay, he’s been a fading biz fixture with a shelf full of awards, dropping relatively self-indulgent discs, hanging out with Devendra Barnhart, settling down with Wooderson’s leftovers, and becoming a dad. This expanded reissue of Odelay reminds us why Beck used to be so exciting, reinforcing the original genre-squishing masterwork with a generous helping of b-sides.
The production gloss (thanks, Dust Brothers) was both Odelay’s advantage and its Achilles heel, a quantum audiophile leap from the crummy, one-take sonics of, say, Beck’s 1994 Stereopathetic Soulmanure. Thus, sample-spiced rev-up “Where It’s At” and high-octane country-blues rawker “Lord Only Knows” went down like Rolling Rock, stripped of tape hiss and stray noise.
Beck’s more endearing, chaotic side, it turns out, was shunted off to international singles or left on the studio floor, and these castoffs smoke their better-known cousins. A misbegotten, tape-manipulated beast, “.000.000” staggers, shape-shifts, and rattles with a grubby menace that grossly distorted vocals only amplify. “Clock” cuts space-age funk with symphonic swell. “Electric Music and the Summer People” is Beck’s own Ramones moment, Easy-Bake pop punk outfitted with throbbing bass that threatens to knock you unconscious and cheesy bleep-bloop synths. “Burro” translates Odelay ballad “Jack-Ass” into Spanish, adding Mexican horn charts and a poignant, heartfelt delivery.
Then there’s the startlingly Primal Scream-y, apocalyptically electronic U.N.K.L.E. remix of “Where It’s At,” plus a pair of competing “Devil’s Haircut” rejiggers from Mickey P. (SST punk!) and Aphex Twin (coked-out glitch!). Can Beck ever be this daringly WTF again?
— Raymond Cummings