I have a theory that your first Beck album is always your favourite. He’s a sonic shapeshifter whose music is always different, but always essentially ‘Beck’. To put it another way, his albums are different suits on the same body. Yet despite my theory about your first Beck album being the one you enjoy the most, Midnite Vultures wasn’t in fact my first Beck album. I already knew about Beck from my best friend Malcolm. A Beck fanatic, he’d put Mutations into the CD player and we’d listen to it while playing Tekken ‘Ogre Wins’ 3. But Midnite Vultures was the first Beck album I really go into and more importantly, the first I went out and bought at the Buchanan Street branch of Virgin Megastore. These things stick in my memory.
Midnite Vultures appealed to me because it was a party album for someone who hated parties. I preferred to stay at home listening to music and reading books. Through Beck, I could live vicariously, attend parties in my imagination that were always better than the real thing – and Midnite Vultures was always the soundtrack. But was it a joke? Was Beck taking the piss? Maybe, but I didn’t see Midnite Vultures that way. True, I couldn’t take seriously the idea of Beck as a horny lover (most of the tracks on the record position him that way), but I instinctively sensed an artist simply wanting to enjoy himself and make a fun (and dumb) pop record. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Midnite Vultures is the most fun record Beck ever recorded. Yes, there’s lashings of irony on the album, but it doesn’t ever seem scornful. Up until that point in his recording career, a Beck album without irony would be like a toaster without bread. He’d shift that opinion somewhat with the release of Sea Change.
Each track on Midnite Vultures is in its rightful place. You couldn’t improve it. From the opening of Sexx Laws (a track that really lets you know what to expect on this album) all the way to Debra, everything is perfectly situated. I can still listen to this album without skipping a single track.
Hollywood Freaks sounds is a rap song that seems to both parody and embrace Dr Dre and the wider hip-hop sound that was massive in the 90s. Get Real Paid seemed to predict the brief and wonderful electroclash movement. Mixed Bizness could have been a duet with Prince, it sounds so eerily like something The Purple One would have released in his 80s zenith. Milk & Honey is the album’s most ridiculous moment but Beck can make the ridiculous sound marvellous. Johnny Marr played guitar on this track, which gives it extra points for me. He also played on some of Girls Aloud’s songs, which also makes him cooler than ever. My next blog post should be called Seven Degrees of Johnny Marr.
The one song on the album that defies the overarching postmodern atmosphere is Beautiful Way. Oh, it’s stunning. To its credit, it comes close to being a ballad but never quite gets there. Beth Orton provides backing vocals. I think most songs would be vastly improved with Beth Orton on backing vocals.
My friend Malcolm told me more tracks were recorded for this album. B-Sides, rarities, songs Beck would later repurpose for Guero. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Midnite Vultures. In my hermetically sealed world, this album would be celebrated with a Deluxe Edition featuring all of those songs. Imagine it! Midnite Vultures could once again be someone’s first ever Beck album like it was for me back in 1999. I almost envy people listening to this album for the first time.