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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Beck: Golden Feelings


1) The Fucked Up Blues; 2) Special People; 3) Magic Station Wagon; 4) No Money No Honey; 5) Trouble All My Days; 6) Bad Energy; 7) Schmoozer (Feeling Hurter); 8) Heartland Feeling; 9) Unknown; 10) Super Golden Black Sunchild; 11) Soul Sucked Dry; 12) Unknown; 13) Feelings; 14) Gettin' Home; 15) Will I Be Ignored By The Lord; 16) Bogus Soul; 17) Totally Confused; 18) Mutherfucker; 19) People Gettin' Busy.

All right, as far as I know, Beck himself has sort of disowned this album, especially after it was re-released by the Sonic Enemy label on CD in 1999 — so there is hardly any need to really hold its existence against him. But there is hardly any need, either, to get acquainted with it, other than out of sheer curiosity or biographic interest. Strictly speaking, this isn't even a proper case of «you got to listen to this to know that even great artists may start out with real shitty records», be­cause it only really works when you know for sure that the soon-to-be-great artist is unintentio­nal­ly starting out with a shit record. Golden Feelings, however, seems to have been very much an intentionally shitty record (cassette, to be precise).

Basically, in 1992-93 Beck was hanging out in L.A., fresh from a folk / anti-folk scene experi­ence in NYC, stuck with a boring dayjob at a video store (he could have, perhaps, become the next Tarantino, but what is it, really, that decides whether your brain gets hung up on music or on film?) and playing really rotten folk gigs at nightclubs where nobody would be listening to him anyway. In this kind of context, it is only to easy to make the transition from «folk» to «anti-folk» (a.k.a. «music you regurgitate back at folk audiences when they don't like you»), and from there, to sheer musical hooliganry of the ugliest kind.

The best thing that can be said about Golden Feelings (and I feel fairly sure the title is really a va­riation on «golden showers», even if I know I can't prove it) is that it does display a sick sense of humor. Beck takes it out on everybody — the straightahead folker, the starry-eyed Donovan kind of folker, the weathered old bluesman, the Southern country rocker, the passionate soul man, and even Bruce Springsteen. The «Beck treatment circa 1992-93» means your style being repro­duced on a battered, out-of-tune guitar, sung in a battered, out-of-tune vocal, with parodic or, in the worst of cases, dumbly repetitive lyrics — all of it done so passionately that the maliciousness overwhelms the talent, and only the most congenial intuition could probably spot tiny signs of the «Beck genius» in any of these tunes.

Nevertheless, far be it from me to deny that some of this stuff is quite damn funny. The accap­pella recitation of ʽSpecial Peopleʼ, for instance, is a hilarious send-up of the «list principle» in rock lyrics, where almost every second line neutralizes the first one ("special people create belief, special people steal some beef... special people are so sincere, special people got special beer") — simple, stupid, and satisfactory. ʽTrouble All My Daysʼ is something that Tom Waits could have recorded, had he been hit real hard with a hammer on the studio threshold. ʽBogus Soulʼ bills it­self exactly right, except that one doesn't even need to squint hard to see how bogus it is (which kinda takes the sense out of bogus, if you get my meaning). And ʽMutherfukerʼ sounds so much like a good old Ween tune that it would be hard for me to believe that Beck never got the Boog­nish fever while drifting around the East Coast. Not impossible, but hard.

Probably the best of the bunch — and also one of the few numbers here that might approach the status of a «real song» — is ʽHeartland Feelingʼ, starting out as a spoken recommendation to write songs in the style of John Cougar Mellencamp ("music of a heartland quality, just powerful straightforward music") and then turning into a playful folk rumination on losers and their lives: "He's only a person / Who doesn't know shit / Nothin' happenin' / That's about it", which is pro­bably a chorus that John Cougar Mellencamp couldn't ever afford — but, in a way, is better than every John Cougar Mellencamp chorus ever created.

Other «songs» on Golden Feelings may be counted on one's fingers, and, besides, they would soon be re-recorded in more polished versions on Beck's next album. ʽGettin' Homeʼ is a nice little country blues shuffle, running about three out of four minutes too long, but with a moody enough, if not too original, chord change. ʽTotally Confusedʼ also seems to take itself a pinch more seriously than the average track on here — at the very least, it could be deemed «personal», seeing as how Beck must have been totally confused at the time.

The guy's interest in things other than «folk» and «anti-folk» is already evident: some of the shor­ter tracks contain muffled samples, some experiment with noise (rather boringly, I'd say), but it is interesting that Beck preferred not to include the one tune that would eventually propel him into the limelight — the sarcastic hip-hop anthem ʽLoserʼ, with Beck rapping over a sampled slide guitar melody — apparently he thought of that one as totally unsuitable for the overall mood of Golden Feelings. Which could, altogether, be described as «hangover folk muzak, fresh from the toilet seat». But do help yourself if you feel like it.

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