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Beck - ''Midnite Vultures''
(Thursday November 25, 1999 6:02 PM )

Released on 22/11/1999
Label: Geffen Records

Over the last 40 years, we've overdosed on hazy dope albums, experienced too many grim, smacked-out heroin records and mulled-over hordes of psychedelic, acid-drenched sounds. Along the way, enumerate other dodgy substances have influenced recordings. Well Beck, an innovator of slobbering ability, has pulled-out a trump card once again, because 'Midnite Vultures' has got to be the first album to be made on Viagra.

The cover, on close inspection, gives it all away and nails this record as a virtual concept album sex being the subject. A faceless male in lurid, pink leather 'pants', fires a luminous bolt of 21st century seed in the general direction of his quarry. Quite how Beck got to here is anyone's guess, but the obvious connotations of opener 'Sexx Laws' set an agenda that is shagged throughout.

Amid the sonic slapstick, horns fanfare, banjos and steel guitars flirt with each other, while Beck insists: 'I want to defy, the logic of all sex laws'. Inconsequential statements fly left and right and already Beck is making another point clear: once again he will at no point reveal a thing about himself of any relevance, beyond this spell-binding smorgasbord of musical genius, sexual perversion and `this is the best album Prince never made' vibes.

The rampant funk flow of 'Mixed Bizness' is a perfect example, a wild percussive edge supporting Beck's magnificent vocal range and lines like 'freaks flock together, making all the lesbians scream'. 'Milk And Honey' is in a similar vein, the pulsing riffing, phasing disco fx and cluttering percussion eventually emerging as a subtle electro stomp, including Kraftwerk-esque deviations and more lyrical lunacy - 'I can smell the VD in the club tonight.'

Even 'Hollywood Freaks' doesn't let us into Beck's mind: the nonsensical, sleaze-infested LA vision providing no insight as to if he actually digs the lifestyle, even though Beck insists: 'party people know I'm they're kind of freak'. We'll have to take his word for it. The electro-futurism of 'Get Real Paid' is even more extreme, an anaesthetised robot vocal seducing with lines like: 'I know you really want it, cos your daddy's always on it…..'

'Beautiful Way' is more traditional, 'Mutations' era-Beck, a whining keyboard moaning under twanging guitars. Bereft of the outrageous pomp of so much that precedes it, the Beach Boys harmonies, harmonica and folk poise elevate this to a subtle high ground.

Back in the sex saddle though, closer 'Debra' is an astonishing achievement and 'Midnight Vultures' flooring final blow. Slinky then explosive R&B accompany Beck's fiercesome falsetto as he recounts a tale where he wants 'to get with you and your sister'. A direct cousin of David Bowie's 'Win', with more and more lashings of Prince, this is the crowning glory of an exceptional album.

'Midnite Vultures' mixes genres with sublime ease, changing pace and style funk, rock, folk, hip-hop etc in a ludicrously dynamic way. And for the first time, rather than being a ramshackle shaman, peering into the visage of popular culture from a derelict viewpoint, there is now cohesion. Albeit one of hot breath, high voices and bizarre sexual desire.

In typical Beck style, the ultimate ironicist has finally given us a snapshot of him. But a him that clearly doesn't actually exist. Despite this, the startling musical variety amplifies the fact that no matter how aloof, how diffident, how cartoon Beck might be, he's so extravagantly talented that he's already lapped everyone else on that strength alone. And to think when 'Loser' broke they labelled him a slacker.

    by Ben Gilbert

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