Beck Hansen, the LA-based post-modern/alterna-folkie better known simply by his first name, has made a lengthy career full of eclectic music, videos, and legendary live performances. He is one of the best examples of what can only be called '90s music because he draws from all genres and songwriting styles that came before him as well as those that were developing at the time. One song may appeal to country fans while the next makes a hip hop-listener want to get down and start breakin'. The next track may turn out to be mostly a folk ballad, aside from the death metal that comes in for 20 seconds during the bridge. Pop culture has continually blurred and melted together since Beck's first official releases, four of which came out within the first four months of 1994, but none best represents this collage of music in a blender like the brilliantly confounding Mellow Gold.
Originally conceived to be a mutilated and altered variation on a classic '70's K-Tel compilation, Beck's third LP presents his mash up of influences, sounds, and styles over 13 radically different tracks that change moods and volumes on a dime and without warning. "Loser," the somewhat misunderstood generational anthem of its day, also kick-started Beck's career and remains his most recognizable and successful song, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album right away with its nonsensical, free-verse rapping, a Beck trademark that remains to this day. This unique lyrical style grew from frustrations at trying to hold the attention of indifferent coffee house patrons at first, but it became Beck's secret weapon, allowing him to explore the poetic elements of pairing unrelated words and phrases together in a way only he can, though imitators and parodies have had their moments in the succeeding years.
Though he understandably shrugged it off at the time, there are many parallels and connections between this early stage of Beck's career and the equivalent era in Bob Dylan's. Whether it be the idea of turning popular music on its head through eccentric words and actions, experimenting with the ever-evolving music that is rock and roll in ways that interest some and alienate others, or even having people mistake your goofing off for a profound and meaningful statement, both songwriters went through similar years when they were starting out in major-label music. Like Dylan, Beck focused on doing pretty much whatever he wanted, including the absurdist music videos, genre-jumping within most songs, and lyrics both nonsensical and profane, throughout the album. It's not that "Fuckin' With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)" is actually even about anything, but it's bound to catch a listener's ear, whether it draws them in or turns them away. In this way, Beck's music, at this stage, was more punk than anything else, to a greater extent than most punks would admit, as many can't get behind pedal steel guitar and banjo the way they can a distorted guitar and pounding drums.
"Soul Suckin' Jerk," "Truckdrivin' Neighbors Downstairs" and "Nitemare Hippie Girl" are full of satire enough to almost make Beck a novelty act, and at this point, with no backing band, he sort of was, but these songs are also full of the life Beck was living and had lived prior to hitting it big. He would not be able to write about the same experiences as he once did, living a poorer, starving-artist-style life, in the way that Eminem, and countless others, also could not once they achieved success. This makes Mellow Gold, especially, an interesting glimpse into Beck's life at this time and allows for a great deal of musical and artistic growth in the years that followed, most notably on his 1996 follow-up LP, Odelay, and 2002's sonic-masterpiece, Sea Change. Before all that, was Mellow Gold, and without its freak success in 1994 and beyond, there is little chance those other great records would have been produced.
Other albums celebrating 20 years:
Sublime-Robbin' the Hood
Veruca Salt-American Thighs
Soul Coughing-Ruby Vroom
Beck-One Foot in the Grave