You gotta hand it to Beck, to my mind in 1996-7 he was the coolest man alive, by some distance. I remember seeing him play at the V97 Festival in Leeds, on between Foo Fighters and The Prodigy he was dressed in a little white racing driver suit and with a crack band backing him was absolutely mesmerizing – his DJ also put on the best display of live scratching I’ve ever seen, banging out a version of ‘Smoke On The Water’ made entirely by scratching. Like all the Beasties kids Odelay just hit the spot for me in 1996, it was (and remains) just so damn cool.
Sheep that I am, I hoovered up all the singles the man cared to release, but if one could be said to embody all the fun and creativity that he was brimming with at the time it would have to be Devil’s Haircut. I picked up a US import copy in July ’97 – why, of why do they call them ‘Maxi Singles’ over there? it’s a 12″, deal with it!
Cue it up and we get the LP version, all groovy beats and brilliantly worked samples. At his best Beck manages to make his music sound like it was warping into Earth from three decades simultaneously, ‘Devil’s Haircut’ sounds like all the grooviest bits of the 60’s, seasoned with some tricks and flicks that could only have come from the post-Ill Communication 90’s. Best of all, for my money are Beck’s lyrics. I still can’t work out how the man manages to pretty much nail so many random words together and make it sound amusing and coherent, occasionally even profound; like a glow-in-the-dark plastic reproduction Bob Dylan circa. Highway 61. Witness:
Heads are hanging from the garbage man trees
Mouthwash jukebox gasoline
Crystals are pointing
At a poor man’s pockets
Smiling eyes ripping out of his sockets
It gets me every time. I remember early on when I first got the internet, there was a website where the goal was to make up a Beck lyric – you’d give it some phrases and it would spit out random lyrical gibberish at you. For some unearthly reason the example I remember was, ‘shitting in a shoe box on a chocolate bar’ I can so hear Beck singing that!
Anyway, back to my maxi-single. Next up is ‘Dark And Lovely’ a remix of the title track by the Dust Brothers. They mute the song down a little, mess with the beats and add some classical touches here and there which sound like transmissions beamed in from some forlorn satellite. It’s fine, not as good as the original but the best is yet to come. The ‘American Wasteland’ mix by Mickey P is just brilliant, it is basically a hardcore punk blast through ‘Devil’s Haircut’, complete with hostile-sounding audience – I genuinely have no idea who Mickey P is and wonder whether Sean Ross who plays bass, is Shaun Ross who played with Excel and Infectious Grooves.
Flip Devil’s Haircut over and we get the ‘Lloyd Price Express’ which confusingly is a remix of my second favourite Beck track, ‘Where It’s At’. It is absolutely brilliant too, a laid back mix by John King (1/2 the Dust Brothers) mixing, you guessed it, Lloyd Price Express into the mix to wonderful, gliding, chilled effect. This is my most-listened to Beck track on my iTunes, by far. Next track ‘Clock’ is an impenetrably dense pile of matter and wonky beats that, I am afraid, could have been better titled ‘Crock’.
But forget the last one, this was a really good 12″ and I’m pleased I got it. This was the crest of the wave for Beck and I, so let’s ride it again and again:
Love machines on the sympathy crutches
Discount orgies on the dropout buses
Hitching a ride with the bleeding noses
Coming to town with the brief case blues