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Music / Beck

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Beck (real name Beck Hansen, born Bek David Campbell, July 8, 1970) is an American Alternative Rock musician and singer-songwriter with two turntables and a microphone.

He first rose to popularity with his underground works, gaining a hit with his breakthrough single "Loser" in 1993. Afterwards, he earned great critical acclaim and commercial success with the album Odelay, escaping the threat of becoming a One-Hit Wonder.

Since then, he has released 9 more albums, his latest being 2019's Hyperspace. During this time, he had become noted for the large variety of genres his work takes in. Critics have deemed him one of the most definitive solo artists in Alternative Rock (if not the most influential), with Odelay and Sea Change being among his most acclaimed records.

Not to be confused with Jeff Beck, Glenn Beck, or the manga Beck and its anime adaptation.



Home Recorded / Indie Label Albums:
  • Banjo Story (1990)
  • 1992 Demo (1992)
  • Beck, Like The Beer (1992)
  • Don't Get Bent Out Of Shape (1992) - A complete demo album that has two different variations.
  • ''Fresh Meat And Old Slabs" (1993)
  • Golden Feelings (1993) - A home recording that is widely considered his first album because it was sold at early Mellow Gold era shows. Very strange experimental material, and a cult classic. Briefly released on CD by the record label in 1999, before being withdrawn due to Beck not being consulted on the rerelease.
  • A Western Harvest Field By Moonlight (1994) - His first 10" EP. Although it has 12 tracks, it's considered an EP because there are only four actual songs on it - "Totally Confused", "Gettin' Home", "Lampshade" and "Pinefresh". The remaining 8 tracks are noise experiments.
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  • Stereopathetic Soulmanure (1994) - These first two albums comprised largely lo-fi, country- and folk-influenced material, quite different from what he made his name with. This was the earliest album of his to be released on CD, a week before Mellow Gold came out. Most of the songs on here are from 1992 and 1993. Despite being an obscure album it's known for the song "Rowboat" which Johnny Cash heard and covered.
  • One Foot In The Grave (1994) - Another lo-fi, folky album. This album is most representative of the types of songs Beck used to perform during radio sessions, of which he did many that year. The album was reissued in 2009 with 16 bonus tracks.

Studio Albums:

Tropes demonstrated by Beck include:

  • Arc Words: While they're more used in pre-Odelay albums, a few words are unusually common in his Word Salad Lyrics, such as:
    • Plastic
    • Cyanide
    • Whiskey
    • Mayonnaise
    • Taco
    • "Aw, my goodness," usually delivered in a falsetto faux-country accent (this one appears mostly on Mellow Gold).
    • "Hollow Log" has always seemed to be one of his favorite phrases, especially in his bluesier songs.
    • His song "Whimsical Actress", known only from a performance on a radio session (though a home demo is supposed to be in Beck's vaults), is loaded with his favorite words at the time, such as "mango", "hoffy dog" and "squeegee". These words also appear in other songs, but their use in Whimsical Actress is particularly funny.
  • Artistic License – Physics /Badass Boast: As part of Beck's Badass Boast in "In A Cold Ass Fashion", he mentions that he can "Squeeze the breeze" and "Smoke a pack of whiskey". He does the latter with Jesus, implying that Beck has these powers because he's a godlike figure.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Known for being quite an eccentric guy (especially in his younger days ), but also has gone through so many genres and styles, being called a "musical chameleon", he's well respected in the alternative/indie music community.
  • Call-Back: The video for "Heart Is A Drum" features an actor in the same outfit Beck wore in "Loser" while "Uneventful Days" puts Tessa Thompson and Evan Rachel Wood in the same clothes Beck wore in "Devil's Haircut" and "Sexx Laws" respectively.
    • Another example (which also counts as an example of Book-Ends if you ignore the hidden track that follows it) appears in "Debra", the closing track from Midnite Vultures. At the end of "Debra", Beck attempts to sing "I'm a full-grown man and I'm not afraid to cry" from album opener "Sexx Laws", but he is unable to finish the sentence.
  • Captivity Harmonica: "Saw Lightning", about someone trying to find guidance from a higher power, features heavy harmonica use.
  • Careful with That Axe:
    • "Lord Only Knows" begins with a startling scream that is either terrifying or comical.
    • The endings of "Minus" and "Sissyneck".
    • The heavy falsetto use throughout Midnite Vultures could inspire this reaction from listeners.
  • Chiptune: "Girl" starts with an 8-bit version of the song's melody that plays for 8 bars before the song properly starts.
  • Church of Happyology: Beck was raised a Scientologist and, until 2019, was one of the more prominent examples. He was far from preachy about it, and in fact used to end interviews if it was brought up. Whilst he's willing to talk about it (if sparingly) this days, his accounts of his childhood remain pretty lacking because he leaves out anything about his religion (which took up a lot of his time). In 2019, Beck stated that he was not a practicing Scientologist, that he primarily involved himself with it for family reasons, and that only in the early 2000s was he strongly involved, when he took counselling after his girlfriend left him (his outlook at this time was captured in his acclaimed Sea Change).
  • Clumsy Copyright Censorship: His head is blurred out in the beginning of the video for "Loser", because he was wearing a Star Wars mask without getting permission for it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Swearing was rather common on Mellow Gold and other early albums. As of late, though, he's been cutting down on the amount of swearing in his lyrics.
    • The 2015 mix of "Dreams" is an exception to the above, the bridge is "Stop fucking with my dreams" repeated twice.
    • Special note to the song "Mutherfuker" which is this deliberately abrasive on purpose.
  • Concept Album: Morning Phase is a concept album about mornings.
  • Corpsing:
    • The end of "Corvette Bummer," in which Beck starts listing random items until breaking into a fit of laughter.
    • He also cracks up on the song "Bogusflow", as well as several radio sessions.
  • Crossover: He once did a crossover performance with The Flaming Lips, and the band toured with him on his Sea Change tour in 2002.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Okay, let's look at Midnite Vultures; an upbeat, fast-paced extremely horny mixtape of Funk-Rock, R&B and Rap. Now let's look at it's direct successor, Sea Change. A downtrodden, melancholy breakup album, taking a more stationarily folk-rock approach when compared to Midnite's extremely fluid take on genre.
    • The Information, with its focus on apocalyptic imagery, psychedelic hip-hop sound and a constant sense of unease that runs through almost every song, some consider it to be equally, if not more bleak than Sea Change.
    • Modern Guilt continued this trend, with consistent references to the apocalypse, global warming, Beck's feelings of being lost in the modern world and usage of Psychedelic Rock techniques generally gives us a good understanding of his state of mind at the time, and it's not particularly positive.
    • After Colors showed Beck seemingly end this phase of his career, Hyperspace came in with songs about the monotony of everyday life, dying of a drug overdose and so many other fun things!
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A lot of newer fans of Beck feel this way when they hear his early demo work. The album "Golden Feelings", which is widely considered his first album, is a completely bizarre collection of home recordings, filled with mutated blues, country and soundscape experiments. A lot of people got into Beck thinking he was a rapper.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out:
    • "Chemtrails"
    • "Fume" seems to come to a natural conclusion after about two minutes... then we get a Studio Chatter snippet of Beck's friend Steve Moramarco jokingly singing a bowdlerized version of the chorus, followed by a complete Genre Shift into Noise Rock with Harsh Vocals, which then goes on for another two minutes.
  • 555: The number 555-4552 is seen on a payphone in the video for "Nausea."
  • Genre Roulette:
    • Mutations is a good example, with its combination of influences from all over the world - the Indian influenced "Nobody's Fault But My Own", the Brazilian influenced "Tropicalia", the blues-influenced "Bottle Of Blues", the Eastern European waltz of "We Live Again", the folky "Lazy Flies", the country-influenced "Canceled Check" and "Sing It Again", and the straightforward indie-pop of "Cold Brains", just to name a few.
    • His early albums, especially Golden Feelings have this, alternating from folk, blues, lo-fi, and noise rock.
  • Grammar Nazi: "In A Cold Ass Fashion" has the immortal line "I love you, but you don't know how to spell".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: The cover for Hyperspace has its title written out in katakana script.
  • Gratuitous Spanish:
    • The chorus for "Loser".
    • The chorus for "Hotwax".
    • "Que Onda Guero" has this throughout in both lyrics and voice clips. Justified in that the song represents a trip through a Hispanic part of LA; the title loosely translates to, "What's Up, White Boy?"
    • "Burro", an alternate version of "Jack-Ass", is entirely in Spanish.
  • Hidden Track: All his pre-Sea Change albums (sans One Foot In The Grave) have one at the end:
  • Indecipherable Lyrics:
    • The vocals to "Sweet Sunshine" are so distorted that even 15 years after the fact, many fansites have different interpretations of the lyrics.
    • Same goes for the vocoderised vocals appearing about 1:40 into "Mixed Bizness", to the point that many lyric sites outright avoid trying to display this part of the song.
    • Fans still disagree as to what the chorus of "Girl" is. It's either "my cyanide girl," "my sun-eyed girl," or "my sonar girl". The lyric sheet only says "Hey, my... girl".
  • Intercourse with You: Pretty much every song on Midnite Vultures.
  • In the Style of...: "Paper Tiger" both sampled and performed like Serge Gainsbourg.
    • "Saxx Laws (Night Flight To Ojsi)" is a smooth jazz instrumental version of "Sexx Laws".
    • "American Wasteland" is a remix of "Devil's Haircut" in the style of hardcore punk - the beginning and the end sample crowd noise and stage banter from a recording of obscure hardcore band Urbicide in order to really make it sound like it's being played at a live punk show.
  • Last Note Nightmare: For some reason, Beck takes a big liking for this trope. Take "Earthquake Weather" for example.
    • Odelay has some pearls. His distorted screaming in "Devil's Haircut", anyone? Also the synthesizer distortion followed by tune in "Novacane".
      • "Lord Only Knows", meanwhile, is a textbook inversion, starting with a deranged scream before becoming subdued country-rock for the rest of the song.
    • Also, several of his albums end this way, due to the Hidden Tracks at the end.
      • "Analog Odyssey" in Mellow Gold might be the crowner example, as Beck is apparently trying to make a synthesizer (and your ears) bleed.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • Morning Phase is typically regarded as a Lighter and Softer sequel to Sea Change, having a similar sound but being a Concept Album about mornings instead of a breakup album.
    • Colors was deliberately produced as being poppier and more dance-friendly compared to Morning Phase.
  • Loudness War: Colors is DR4 with some tracks as bad as DR3, which is just unforgivable. Earlier albums sometimes fall into this trope somewhat, too, but not this badly.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Beck came closest to this trope during the Modern Guilt era. While he also dons longer hair on the album cover for the follow-up Morning Phase he had long ditched the locks by the time promotion of the album had come around.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Girl", which sounds like a cheery pop song unless you listen closely to the lyrics.
    • "Lost Cause" is a milder case, with fairly depressing lyrics set to upbeat acoustic guitars.
  • Lyric Swap: "Mixed Bizness", with the line "And make all the ... scream". The first, second and fourth occurrences use "b-boys" while the third occurrence uses "lesbians" instead.
  • Mind Screw: "The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton", the final track from The Information. Starts off as a song, becomes a British-accented weather report, and ends up with Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers talking like two really baked college sophomores.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art:
    • The Information... well, at first. Each CD comes with a sticker sheet, allowing you to customize the album cover as you see fit. Four different sticker sheet editions were made and randomly inserted into the CDs. Beck said that he wanted some kind of interactivity in the packaging, with no two covers ending up looking the same.
    • The front cover of Stereopathetic Soulmanure is actually an upside down, cropped version of a stock image that appeared on many private presses, usually for school bands, in the 60s.
  • Miniscule Rocking: His more "indie" albums like One Foot in the Grave and all his pre-Mellow Gold releases are mostly made up of songs two minutes or shorter.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Varies to the point that anyone getting into Beck expecting a single kind of sound will be sorely disappointed:
    • Beck's earlier stuff tends to be higher on the scale, ranging from a steady 4 ("Loser") all the way to a very hard 10 with parts reaching 11 ("Mutherfuker").
    • As a whole, however, songs tend to stay within 4-6, occasionally having heavier 8-9 sections ("Devil's Haircut", "Hotwax") or softer 1-2 sections ("Lost Cause", "Think I'm in Love"). It is always hard to predict what you'll get from Beck.
  • Mondegreen: Invoked with "Girl", which contains a chorus line that's either "My sun-eyed girl" or "My cyanide girl". The album's lyric booklet simply reads the line as "my ... girl", leaving the actual sung word unclear. Due to the song's dark lyrical matter, public opinions have shifted more towards "cyanide" as the correct answer.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The Mutations secret track "Diamond Bollocks" is heavier and darker than "Static" or any other song on the album. It's even more pronounced on some foreign copies on which it isn't a secret and occupies its own track after "Static" without the buffer of silence. Whiplash also occurs within the song as it changes styles abruptly.
    • Many of his albums (Odelay and Mellow Gold especially) end with 5-10 minutes of silence followed by a frightening "bonus noise" that can sometimes be frightening. See Hidden Track above.
    • The dance-friendly Colors ends with the slow-paced Be Yourself ballad "Fix Me".
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
  • Nice Hat: Became part of Beck's wardrobe from The Information onwards.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Rollins Power Sauce", "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997", "Beercan", "Cyanide Breath Mint", "Atmospheric Conditions", "Minus", "Sissyneck", "Mixed Bizness", "E-Pro", "Earthquake Weather", "Emergency Exit", "Movie Theme", "Square One", "Hyperlife" among many others.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, John Oliver sardonically mentioned that, as far as inconvenient facts go, one easily ignorable fact is that Beck was a Scientologist. In 2019, however, hestated that he was no longer a member and when he was involved, it was for family reasons. (Beck's father and ex-wife are both members).
  • Older Than They Look: He is in his 50s but has looked about the same since The '90s. He was 23 when "Loser" was popular, but looked 19 at most.
    • His voice is the opposite, especially in early songs, in which he sounds like a gruff, hoarse old man. However, he was a fan of slowing down or speeding up his voice in those days so it is not always accurate.
  • One-Woman Song: "Debra" is a subversion—the song is sung to Debra's sister Jenny.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice
  • Piss Take Rap: According to the guy himself, "Loser". The story goes like this: Beck and Carl Stephenson decided to record a song in Stephenson's kitchen. He decided to start rapping, made up lyrics as he went, and the two got a laugh out of how terrible it sounded. When they listened, Beck started sarcastically singing "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me." The song took all of six and a half hours to record and produce, and only released it because his record label, Bong Load, pressured him to. And so, Beck got his first big break.
  • Pungeon Master: When they're not Word Salad Lyrics, chances are the lyrics are a Hurricane of Puns.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "Soul Suckin' Jerk". Originally appearing on the Loser EP under the title "Soul Suckin' Jerk (Reject)", the first and second verses switched places when it was re-recorded for the Mellow Gold album. Musically, the two versions are pretty distinct too - the Loser version is slower and primarily based around drums and bass, and it's a few minutes longer due to a lengthy instrumental outro.
    • "It's All In Your Mind" was originally a One Foot In The Grave outtake, which saw official release as a standalone single in 1995, though the better-known version was a re-recording done for Sea Change around ten years later. The original recording was very much in the Three Chords and the Truth style of One Foot In The Grave: Just Beck backing himself up on a slightly out of tune acoustic guitar, with the only other instrumentation being a brief overdubbed guitar solo at the end. The re-recording was done with a full band and had a more complex arrangement including keyboards and cello.
    • The B-Side "Got No Mind" is "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)" with alternate lyrics and the acoustic guitar replaced with electric.
    • During the aforementioned Beck and Flaming Lips crossover shows, the Flaming Lips would effectively act as Beck's backing band, coming up with their own arrangements of his songs. Sometimes they were pretty similar to the studio versions, sometimes they could be radically different. Their version of "Get Real Paid" was much noisier and more abrasive, turning it from Kraftwerk-inspired electro to Brainiac-inspired noise-rock/electro-punk: Beck reportedly heard them working on the arrangement in rehearsal and said something along the lines of "That was really cool! What was it?"
    • Minor changes were made to "Dreams" between the single version released in 2015 and the mix that appears on Colors, most notably the removal of the Precision F-Strikes in the song's bridge.
  • Recycled Lyrics: In general, Beck seems to pick a certain turn of phrase he likes and use it in multiple songs written around the same time - for instance "Ziploc Bag" and "Corvette Bummer" both include the line "yellow cat laying flat on the road", while "The Spirit Moves Me" has "Phony lady laying flat on the road". Also, numerous lines in "Diamond Bollocks" are originally from the B-Side "Erase the Sun". The line "Out On The Highway, I'm Doing It My Way" and the general tune of Electric Music And The Summer People came out of the One Foot In The Grave outtake Piss On The Door.
    • A subversion occurs in Ace Of Spade which was recorded twice. The second version added a line "You'll be living, one foot in the grave" which was soon after used as the basis for the song "One Foot In The Grave" which otherwise bore no resemblance to Ace Of Spade.
  • Refrain from Assuming: "Where It's At" is often mislabeled as "Two Turntables and a Microphone."
  • Remix Album: Guerolito, made up of remixes from Guero.
  • Retraux: Beck's 2012 "album" Song Reader was originally released not as a record, or a CD, or a collection of MP3 files, or as any kind of recorded performance at all—it was published as printed sheet music. 20 tracks worth. If you can read traditional music notation and you have a piano or guitar, knock yourself out. Beck himself performed "I'm Down" and "Sorry" from Song Reader in live shows before finally releasing Song Reader as a record in 2014, except he only sang "Heaven's Ladder" and outsourced the rest to artists such as Jack White, fun., Jarvis Cocker, Sparks, among many others.
  • Sampling: A big part of his style, to the point that he complained that due to crackdowns and massively inflated sampling fees he would be unable to do an album like Odelay again without having to pay huge sums of money for clearance. There's a noticeable reduction in the amount of sampling on his 2000s albums compared to the ones from The '90s.
    • "Rental Car" has a section where guest vocalist Petra Haden does some yodel-like scatting: Beck and his Record Producers The Dust Brothers originally wanted to use a sample of a yodeling record they'd found, but couldn't find any copyright information on it, so they called Petra in to do something similar and made it sound like a sample.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist
  • Shout-Out: Beck specifically singled out both the concept and the aesthetics of Asteroids as inspiration for Hyperspace.
  • Single Stanza Song: "Hyperlife".
  • The Slacker: At first categorised as such because of the success of "Loser". Beck was quite annoyed by this, pointing out that at the time the song was recorded, he was trying to make ends meet working various minimum wage jobs and had previously been homeless trying to make it in New York.
  • Something Completely Different: This being Beck, not only will this occur from album to album, but sometimes in the middle of a song itself.
  • The Stoner: His early folk stuff. It is less evident on later work.
  • Stylistic Suck: Beck is specialized on this, apparently.
    • That little silly solo part in "Girl". Unlike the rest of the song, it sounds like a bunch of random notes played on untuned guitar.
    • Going by his initial idea, the lyrics to "Loser". The video too, as it looks like it cost 20 bucks to film, and every video from Mellow Gold is low-cost and made to look sucky.
    • His vocal delivery on the verses of "Gamma Ray" is full of stuttering and hesitant pauses, as though he was either nervous or just struggling to remember the lyrics, while the chorus is sung much more confidently. Beck himself has said "I was trying to sound as bad as I could, for a laugh".
    • Various early songs, such as "Trouble All My Days" (from Golden Feelings) and "Total Soul Future (Eat It)" (from Stereopathetic Soulmanure), have Beck detuning his guitar intentionally badly, to create bizarre and hilarious music.
  • Subliminal Seduction: At one point in "Loser," the chorus is sung backwards.
  • Take That!: His first single, "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack."
  • Take That Me:
    • "Loser" is a Piss Take Rap to himself and his poor rapping ability.
    • "Hotwax"'s Gratuitous Spanish chorus translates to "I'm a broken record/I've got chewing gum in my brain".
    • And we can't forget his Futurama appearance.
  • Textless Album Cover: Sea Change, Colors.
  • This Is a Song:
    • "Title of This Song" from Song Reader.
    • "Where It's At" has the line "That was a good drum break" right after a drum break.note 
  • Three Chords and the Truth:
    • Depends on the album, as his post-Nineties output seems more polished and albums like Odelay hide it under attention-deficit-style Sampling and genre-mixing, but his earlier albums and basically any of his folk, blues, or punk influenced songs fall under this.
    • Most of Sea Change fits this trope, mixing fairly simple song arrangements and direct lyrics about heartbreak.
  • Three-Way Sex: The basis of the song "Debra", in which the narrator voices his wants to get with a girl named Jenny as well as her sister Debra.
  • Torment by Annoyance: "Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)". The drug-using Chaotic Stupid gay bear couple in the song is based on actual neighbors that Beck had. An especially loud, chaotic row between the two occurred when Beck was trying to record some home demos; he found they were making so much noise he couldn't get anything done, but he had left the tape recorder going, so he used an excerpt of their fight in the song.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997" was recorded in 1994.
  • Uncommon Time: "Blackbird Chain" jumps all over the place. "Dear Life" is mostly in patterns of 14/4 (6/4 followed by two bars of 4/4, usually), though not always.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Looks very baby-faced even to this day, but his voice is very deep.
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Played with twice in Hyperspace.
    • While Pharrell Williams appearance in "Saw Lightning"'s second verse meets the definition of this trope, Beck's vocal delivery throughout this song is also in a similar style.
    • A similar situation also occurs with Terrell Hines in the Title Track itself.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Prominent in his earlier work, but can still be picked up in songs such as "Wow".

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