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Midnite Vultures

music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Midnite Vultures

Artist: Beck
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: November 1999

Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

The fact that Beck is a genius deserves to be taken for granted. With three studio records, he's shown a mastery of almost every style around, from electronic dance music to country pop. The question is whether Beck knows what to do with his talent. His records, even his best (Odelay), have had pointless doodling or inside jokes among the moments of brilliance. Midnight Vultures shows Beck at his most amazing and most exasperating. It's an incredible achievement, a record that simulates various types of 70's disco with incredible imagination and a real sense of authenticity. While Beck brings a real affection to the music and sprinkles in a lot of good jokes, it's unclear what the point of Midnight Vultures is. Beck alludes to so many records and performers that even the most knowledgable listener will probably only pick up a fraction of the dozens of references. The artist who comes to mind the most is The Artist, the former Prince, particularly on songs like Peaches & Cream with Beck singing his double entendre falsetto come ons. Like Beck here, Prince has an extensive knowledge of R&B history and works tirelessly to make his records sound exactly like he wants. But Prince's audience has shrunk as he's lost the energy and spontaneity of his early work.

Unlike on Mellow Gold and Odelay, Midnite Vultures doesn't have any indecipherable experiments. Here he keeps the beat and the positive dance club feeling coming and there's almost always a good groove. While Midnite Vultures is an interesting curiosity, I find it ultimately exhausting. Part of the problem is Beck's typical gibberish lyrics which gives you little to hold on to from each particular song. Nicotine and Gravy has a good minimal dance feel and I like the way it dissolves into a cacophonous Beatlesque string section but there's too much musical wandering around and what are you supposed to take from its chorus:" I think we're going crazy, her left eye is lazy/She looks so Israeli, nicotine and gravy." Mixed Bizness is a fast song, that sounds like Love Machine or Ohio Players with a fun, silly chorus and a high voiced male mindlessly singing, "All right, turn it up now" but it drags on too long. Still, there are plenty of great pieces to Midnight Vultures like the ridiculously cold metallic beat and vocals of Get Real Paid and the mock-real rap of Hollywood Freaks with his "crew" yelling at the end "Jockin my Mercedes, probably have my baby/Shop at Old Navy, he wish he was a lady."

Unlike the very unified Mutations, Midnite Vultures doen't stay to his theme for the whole record. Midnite Vultures does best with songs that don't fit the general disco theme. Sexx Laws is very appealing with a fun, loose feel. It combines different sounds in a joyful way with horns, countryish banjos and steel guitar and cheesy electronic effects as Beck advocates a new sexual revolution. Midnite Vultures ends well. Beautiful Way is a laid back countryish song that achieves a cool mood and relaxed beauty. Pressure Zone has the record's typical electronic effects but has a good, crunchy electric guitar and more focused vocals from Beck to give it a little weight. Debra is another song that is clearly an homage to 70's soul, but this one is an easy ballad. Beck has a good time with the cool, jazzy mood, playing the smooth ladies man. The feeling is more relaxed than the dance songs where Beck buries the song in all kinds of tracks and musical jokes.

It's unfair to compare it to one of the best, most original records of 1999 but Midnight Vultures pales in comparison to Moby's Play. Both are very well made studio creations but Moby, especially in his beat filled additions to classic blues songs, doesn't just show his love for great, old music and show his ability to make a record with a great beat but he makes something new and exciting. Beck apparently sees Midnight Vultures as just one step in a long and varied career. Like Mutations, Midnight Vultures is a well made record, where Beck works well staying mostly within a particular musical idiom. Still, for his next record, hopefully instead of showing how well he can simulate the past, Beck will make an original, forward looking record.



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