As a human being who has occupied the planet for a tad over 40 years, it is a slightly daunting reality that some of my favourite albums are having significant birthdays of their own. As incredible as it seems, a number of records that very much formed the soundtrack of my youth are turning 20, which to me is now exactly half a lifetime ago. As a result ‘Don’t Let Go‘ is to be a regular Across The Ocean feature, a nostalgic glance back in time to celebrate some of the truly seminal moments from that era. So with that said come with me on a journey back to the days of indoor smoking, flanno donning and scarcely controlled stage diving- the mid 90s. – Gavin Stocker
(Release date: March 1, 1994)
If Beck‘s Mellow Gold sounds somewhat all over the shop, that’s because it is. A mish mash of low-fi hip hop, folk and blues, the tracks were recorded haphazardly onto old school 4 track in Beck‘s L.A house. This relaxed low-budget approach to the recording lead the media at the time to invent the ‘slacker’ genre, a somewhat mediocre attempt to pigeonhole Beck‘s music.
Opening track Loser not only became a suprise cult hit but the song that represented this new found slacker tag. Incredulously the song came from an impromptu jam session as Beck spontaneously rapped in front of Rap-A-Lot producer Carl Stephenson. After showcasing some of his more folkier tracks, Beck busted out the famous line “I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?”, intended as some rather harsh self analysis of what he deemed his substandard hip hop skills. ‘Loser‘ went on to become Beck‘s breakthrough moment and propelled him into unexpected stardom.
From start to finish Mellow Gold is an intriguing and often humourous journey.
Over simplistic acoustic guitar, Beck’s rather demented folk songs shine the brightest. Often peppered with non sequiturs we are taken on some bizarre lyrical journeys with “giant dildos crushing the sun” (Pay No Mind), “meeting snakes on the ceiling (Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997) and “tofu the size of Texas (Nitemare Hippy Girl).
Personal experiences are cleverly documented throughout, most notably in the crunching defiance of Soul Suckin Jerk (I ain’t washing dishes in a ditch no more) and Truckdrivin Neighbours Downstairs, a tale of dubious insomnia inducing neighbours.
A few more suprises await before the album’s completion. ‘Steal My Body Home‘ is best described as disturbing ambience, whereas the threatening “Mutherfucker‘ is ostensibly an ode to the dominating grunge sound of the time, albeit with Beck‘s own unique flavour.
For many Mellow Gold will always be Beck‘s defining moment. His numerous latter works are of high quality but on this album an innocence and complete lack of expectation is captured. As is the case with successful artists, each subsequent release came accompanied with an additional layer of gloss. Whilst this may not necessarily be a bad thing there is something eternally endearing about the notion of an unknown musician sitting in his basement making music for the hell of it.