Where To Start With... Beck
For the best part of 30 years now, Beck Hansen – better known to most simply as Beck – has been a unique presence on the global music scene. Often broadly defined as 'alternative rock' in the early years of his career, Beck has always been a difficult artist to classify, his music incorporating almost every style you could name in a collage of samples and live performances.
His first couple of albums were low-key, lo-fi affairs released on small indie labels but when his song 'Loser' began to get airplay in the U.S., his talents were brought to the attention of David Geffen, whose record label signed him up and released his major label debut Mellow Gold.
While he was initially pigeonholed as one of the key players in the 'slacker' movement of the mid-1990s that included the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and other figures such as the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, his output over the last couple of decades has shown Beck to be something of a chameleon, shifting styles from one record to the next while still managing to create a sound all of his own.
In addition to the work released under his own name, Beck has also worked as a producer for the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg and former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, as well working on collaborations with a broad range of artists from Childish Gambino to Philip Glass.
His last two albums, 2014's Morning Phase and 2017's Colors, could scarcely have been further apart in terms of both style and substance, but both scooped up their share of Grammy awards, the former being named Album of the Year while the latter was awarded Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album. In the case of Colors, at least some of the credit for that recognition should go to producer Greg Kurstin, with whom Beck struck up a winning partnership to create an album much more immediate and accessible than its predecessor.
Its follow-up, Hyperspace, arrives in stores today and while Kurstin does make a contribution on album deep cut 'See Through', for the most part Hyperspace has been the result of working with another high-profile producer, Pharrell Williams. Their collaboration initially came about when Williams asked Beck to contribute to the last N.E.R.D. album and although their original plan, according to Beck, was only to work together on “a single or an EP”, their partnership soon proved to be fruitful enough to produce a whole album's worth of material.
Other contributors to Beck's latest album include Sky Ferreira, who appears on 'Die Waiting', and Terrell Hines, who pops up on the album's title track.
You can find the video for recent single 'Uneventful Days', directed by Dev Hynes, below – beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from Beck's career so far to get you in the mood...
Initially deemed ‘mediocre’ by the artist and initially pressed only on a limited vinyl run of 500 copies on its first release, ‘Loser’ began picking up some unexpected airplay in the U.S. and before long its “why don’t you kill me” hook had propelled Beck to alt-rock hero status. Much to the artist’s distaste, the song saw him labelled the ‘face of the slacker generation’, but 'Loser' nevertheless became the hit that set Beck’s career in motion and led to a deal with Geffen, who would later re-release the song and his major label debut, Mellow Gold.
'Where It's At'
Beck wanted to take a different approach to his next album for Geffen after Mellow Gold, enlisting the production skills of The Dust Brothers, largely as a result of their work on The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. Odelay became Beck’s breakthrough album, selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone and earning him a couple of Grammy awards in the process. One of those was for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for ‘Where It’s At’, one of the album’s highlights.
One of the highlights from Sea Change, ‘Paper Tiger’ features some of the album’s most starkly heartbreaking lyrics and shows a new, more emotive side to his songwriting for the first time on what might be his most personal record.
Taken from 2005’s Guero, an album that saw him hooking up with The Dust Brothers for the first time since Odelay, Beck is back to his riff-grinding best with this anthem that bagged Beck his first No.1 since ‘Loser’ and reaffirmed his status as an artist with real longevity.
Our final pick is taken from Beck's most recent album Colors, which saw him team up with producer Greg Kurstin in what must rank as one of his most productive partnerships to date. Arguably one of the most upbeat, pop-oriented tracks Beck has ever released, 'Dreams' is one of the album's real highlights and possibly his most infectious song in years.
Hyperspace is available in stores now – you can also find it here in our online store.