After a few days absence, I had hoped I’d come roaring back into all your lives wielding a long-overlooked gem from my collection, but no, Beck has gone and spoilt that for me. I bought Beck Midnite Vultures the day it came out, the super-heavyweight vinyl and luxuriously appointed sleeve overcame my misgivings about the single, Sexx Laws, I’d bought a week or two earlier and I had hoped that was a bit of a blip. You see, I was a real fan ever since I bought the cassingle Loser and delved deeper, I saw him in 1998 and he was just amazingly good, fronting a really ultra-talented band all decked out in a little white racing driver’s suit. Odelay was the high-water mark for me, just a divine mix of all manner of stuff I liked; I dug Mutations too, more downbeat, but skilled. Unfortunately, Midnite Vultures just KO’d my fandom.
To my mind Beck’s strengths were his ability to operate in a self-consciously trashy aesthetic, piling all manner of different styles on top of one another to great, usually fun effect. For some reason Midnite Vultures just comes across as shallow dilettantism at it’s worse; Beck pretty much parodying gangsta rap on ‘Hollywood Freaks’ is a good example. You could argue that this is Beck’s tribute to black music, there’s hip-hop, funk, electro and sort-of soul in here, replacing some of the rock, singer-songwriter and hillbilly elements that had held previously been in there. Of course, that’s grossly simplifying what black music is/can be/will be and what Beck had done before, but I thought I’d just chuck that in there. Not that music should ever be segregated, or that white people can’t play ‘black’ music (or vice-versa) but it ain’t sounding right here.
To me, Midnite Vultures comes across as a Prince* parody, not that anything’s poorly played here, no band with Joey Waronker and Justin Meldal-Johnson as rhythm section could be guilty of that, it’s all a bit more invidious. It just doesn’t work, all the sexual posturing here – is that all he saw in funk?, comes over as just that, posturing. In fact some of the tracks are so bereft of anything resembling a tune, they’re unlistenable (Peaches & Cream, Hollywood Freaks, Get Real Paid). Midnite Vultures sounds like an LP produced by a man so trusted to shit gold instinctively in the studio by this point, that no-one dared point out to him that he was just messing all over the floor with this one.
The LP only really catch fire on one track for me, the cracking ‘Mixed Bizness’, which really swings and grooves and has the best production and dynamics on the album by far. It also has a proper tune, which helps. An honourable mention goes to ‘Debra’ a lustful, ludicrous, over-the-top soul croon, which to 2013 ears sounds like a Flight of The Conchords track and therein lies the rub, they do this stuff far, far better and for laughs.
*in pre-squiggle mode.