The definitive outsider, Beck is a lonely voice raging against the stifling winds of conformity and complacency in both our mainstream culture and in our stock-model counter-culture (check out one of his first indie releases, “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack”). Growing up in heartland America, Beck dropped out of high school and cultivated his muse on a combination of traditional folk music and Delta blues, not unlike another legendary outsider from the heartland–Bob Dylan.
Already well-known in the New York and Los Angeles folk scenes, Beck’s stature as an independent artist was cemented by college radio programmers. While terms like “alternative” came to mean next to nothing, Beck’s 12″ version of “Loser,” released on the Bongload label, became an underground hit. The music he makes on MELLOW GOLD is an unruly synthesis of Americana, completely devoid of cliches as Beck stumbles on one fresh idea after another with a rare sense of discovery. At any given moment you might hear an Indian raga (“Steal My Body Home”), chicken-fried hip-hop (“Loser” and “Soul Suckin Jerk”), a John Lee Hooker/Rolling Stones shuffle (“Fuckin’ With My Head”), post-modernist noise (“Mutherfuker”) or echoes of down-home blues (“Blackhole”).
Beck makes his diverse range of sources on MELLOW GOLD work. Each song sounds lived-in and alive, all run hurdy-gurdy through the meat-grinder of an original sensibility, fashioned with grow-your-own power and spirit on a humble 8-track recorder in his producer’s living room. “Soul Suckin Jerk” is a freedom cry for every small town kid working away dutifully in some dead-end job just trying to imagine a better tomorrow. “Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” employs a series of sleazy images (“Give the finger to the rock and roll singer as he’s dancing upon your paycheck/The sales climb higher through the garbage-pail sky like a giant dildo crushing the sun…the drugs won’t kill your day job”) to impale corporate rock upon its own pretensions and decry the malling of America. “Beercan” brings inner-city rap face-to-face with the traditional talking blues of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, animated by a remarkable series of samples over a percolating dance beat. MELLOW GOLD is a shot across the bow of business-as-usual rock.