Beck | One Foot in the Grave (Iliad/K)

cd_beck.jpgBeck seemed like a weird, lucky guy who was destined to fade quickly into obscurity.







When a strange, catchy song called "Loser" exploded on the radio waves in the spring of 1994, few realized that the listening public was being introduced to one of the most creative and brilliant musical minds in modern rock. In the midst of all the flash-in-the-pan hype surrounding "Loser" and the album Mellow Gold, Beck seemed like a weird, lucky guy who was destined to fade quickly into obscurity. It would have taken a crystal ball to have known then that Beck would go on to release critically acclaimed, versatile masterpieces like Odelay, Midnight Vultures, and…well, the list is still going.

Beck had recorded a couple of other albums before "Loser" hit; one of these, One Foot in the Grave, was released after Mellow Gold had become a commercial success. The spare, mostly acoustic Grave languished in the shadow of its quirkier cousin, and finally went out of print several years ago. Fortunately for Beck fans, his own label has recently reissued the album. This new Grave has been fully remastered, and it includes 16 bonus tracks, most of which have been previously unreleased.

For the most part, these songs are brief and basic. The album feels like a particularly polished demo tape. This young, unknown Beck is confident, but he also sounds like he’s trying on different voices and sounds, restlessly trying to find which ones fit him best or hold his interest. The album’s opener, "He’s a Mighty Good Leader," sounds like Beck doing Woody Guthrie; the fuzzy, surfer-punk of "Burnt Orange Peel" is Beck channeling Bleach-era Nirvana; and on the bonus track "Woe Is Me," Beck finds his inner Dylan. There are, however, glimpses of the unique artist that Beck was becoming: "Cyanide Breath Mint" features the enjoyably maddening, elliptical lyrics of later work; the sounds on "Forcefield" weave around each other in slightly off and pleasant ways; and the bonus track "Close to God" features the loopy beeps of an arcade video game.

None of these songs are going to burn up the airwaves, but One Foot in the Grave will be welcomed by fans as a valuable artifact of Beck’s early days. Discovering that artifact is, at the least, interesting, especially after all these years and all those (ongoing) masterpieces. B | John Shepherd

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