Alt-alt singer/songwriter Beck’s 1996 breakthrough release, Odelay, gets the deluxe treatment – and hold up very well. While Beck first came to people’s ears thanks to 1994’s Mellow Gold hit single, “Loser”, more than a few folks were calling him a one-hit wonder – until he followed Gold up with the double-platinum, double-Grammy-winning Odelay. Now, over a decade later, Odelay is re-released as a double-disc with a grab-bag of nineteen extra outtakes, unreleaseds, foreign b-sides, and remixes, but it’s how well Odelay still plays that steals the show.
The lo-fi alt-rap Beck employed on Odelay was shocking and original in its day, but instead of feeling like old hat now, it just comes across as more flowing, catchier. That’s certainly true with singles “Devil’s Haircut”, “The New Pollution”, and hit “Where It’s At”, which is the perfect combo of indie-cool and indie-irony, having fun and making fun at the same time. Other indie-cool tracks that hold up well include the backwoods-y “Hotwax” and single “Sissyneck”, and the re-release lets the sadder Beck we’d come to know later on shine through, minus some of the weirdness, on “Lord Only Knows”, “Readymade”, “Ramshackle”, and single “Jack-Ass”. However, most of the really fuzzed-up techno-rock pieces, like “Derelict”, “Novacane”, and “Minus”, still feel kind of clunky – but “High 5 (Rock The Catskills)” still stands out.
After the annoying hidden bit at the end of finisher “Ramshackle”, disc one still contains three more tracks from the Odelay sessions, “Deadweight”, “Inferno”, and “Gold Chains”. “Deadweight” was a single in its own right in 1997, off the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, and it’s certainly more memorable than that Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz flop. Tropical like how Beck’s next record, Mutations, would be, “Deadweight” might have fit better there, but gets more of a chance to stand out here. “Inferno” and “Gold Chains” are previously unreleased outtakes from Beck’s time with Odelay producers, the Dust Brothers: a good-but-meandering funky techno-fuzz rap, and a good-but-meandering lo-tech folk-rap.
Disc two is sixteen tracks that, unsurprisingly for the unusual Beck, vary in style, length, quality – you name it. Things start off with three remixes, a twelve-minute drum & bass remix of “Where It’s At” by UNKLE, a sped-up remix of “Devil’s Haircut” by Aphex Twin (dubbed “Richard’s Hairpiece), and another “Haircut” remix, by Mickey P., done like a live punk song (called “American Wasteland”). There’s also an alternate, improved, lo-fi garage-rock version of Stereopathic Soulmanure’s “Thunder Peel”, and the disc ends with two new versions of “Jack-Ass” – a better, more orchestral version, thanks to adding strings (called “Strange Invitation”), and a Spanish language version with a mariachi band (“Burro”).
Lo-fi and techno-fuzz get the biggest play on the rest of the tracks, mixing them all up a bit too much. However, there are some key standouts, such as the early-on cool, laid-back, techno-fuzz rap of “Clock”. Meanwhile, the sad and restrained Beck comes out orchestral with his guitars on “Brother” near the end, to be followed by disc two’s top track, “Devil Got My Woman”. Beck recorded this cover of a Skip James classic at the world-renowned Sun Studios in Memphis, just before the doors on the place closed forever, and this ‘Beck blues’ is unlike anything this wide and prolific artist has done before.
Like any expanded double-disc re-release of a classic (such as Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) – QRO review, or U2’s The Joshua Tree: Remastered – QRO review), two questions must be asked: is the original material as good as it was, and are all the extras worth my time? For Beck’s Odelay – Deluxe Edition, the original holds up and then some, and there are definitely some special pieces among the extras.
MP3 Stream: “Devil Got My Woman”