Monday, January 28, 2008

Beck - Jack-Ass

(Geffen, 1997)

When it came time to release his fifth Odelay single, Beck cried out “Say! I’m no lazy Jane!” by dropping a six-song double 7” to show everyone what a steeldrivin’ man of music he was. OK, four of those six are versions of “Jack-Ass,” but two of those are new re-recordings that add something substantial to the picture. More about that in a minute. The two NEW new songs (uh, recorded in 1994 and 1995) are a raw – abused acoustic + growly voice – cover of the blues moldy oldie “Devil Got My Woman” and the very dark ’n’ mysterious “Brother,” whose piano, ominous bass, formless guitar squalls, and surprisingly emotive vocal make it creepier and more foreboding than anything else I’ve heard outta Beck. Intriguing stuff, and a nice companion to the similarly praiseworthy remake of “Feather in Your Cap.”

Back to “Jack-Ass.” But first, a question: This is a pretty, introspective song that is a lot more “emotionally mature” than the rest of Odelay… did Beck feel the need to saddle it with such a goofily self-critical title and then end it with the braying donkey punchline because he didn’t want to come off as “serious”? Self-conscious self-sabotage? Hmm. I saw a band once that played really nice, simple, poppy boy-girl toonz, but they were part of this larger punkhouse scene and they called themselves “The Fags,” because I suppose they thought they hadta make fun of and denigrate themselves rather than just be honest and admit/embrace the fact that, hey, we’re a silly and fun and probably twee pop group? I thought it was sad. I really did! See what I’m saying? The connection between the two? Those are my deep observations for the night.

Back to “Jack-Ass.” For REALZ!

The “Butch Vig Mix” sticks close enough to the LP version that it isn’t worth much mention. It’s shorter (to the point that it feels rushed), has a re-jiggered ending, and is generally more radio friendly than the rather lengthy and languid album take. Thanks to a pressing error, we get it twice on this EP instead of hearing the promised – and promisingly titled! – “Lowrider Mix.” Don’t worry; that one pops up on the American 12” and the European CD, and it pretty much just adds a dumb – but fun – bass thump and hip-hop beat throughout the song. “Strange Invitation”? “Jack-Ass” as performed on acoustic guitar with handsome string backing as arranged by Beck’s own daddy. Mellow cello! And that singing: significant leaps taken here towards legitimacy as a vocal bigshot. Last on the menu is the infamous “Burro,” a full-on mariachi version, crooned in Spanish. Beck would later incorporate Mexican/Latino influences more fully into his music, but back in ’97 this felt like a wacky gimmick… though one that is carefully executed and works quite well.

Gripe that I can’t cram in anywhere else: Annoyingly, the A-sides of both 7”s are much louder than the B’s. Whyzat?!

Hey, wondering why Bob Dylan gets a writing credit on “Jack-Ass”? Of course you were. The meat of the musical track here is a shimmering sample from “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” crucial enough to the song’s foundation to elevate Dylan to co-writer status. But here’s the crazy part! This particular sample is from Them’s cover of “Baby Blue,” and it’s an element that was not in Dylan’s version; Bobert D’s really getting away with one here! Ah well. More fun Dylan facts: There were rumors going around in 1997 that Beck, Dylan, and Paul McCartney were going to tape an Unplugged performance with Allen Ginsberg (McCartney had been collaborating with Ginsberg around this time). Old Al dropped dead, though, so it didn’t happen. However, Beck and Dylan did play a show together in Los Angeles at the end of that year, so all was right with the world. The end.


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