Yet after fourteen arduous months in his home studio, the SoCal native returns with something you'd be foolish to call watered down -- a victory in itself, considering corporate music's knack for pissin' in the punch bowl. Midnite Vultures incorporates pretty near everything from the last three decades of music: irresistibly funkified booty grooves, R&B and vintage soul (plus lethal smatterings of utterly soulless Kraftwerk flavorings) from the Seventies, new wave, dude rock and bump-and-grind carnality from the Eighties (that little purple hermaphrodite from Minneapolis gets more than his/her share of mimicry), plus trance, techno, hip-hop, folk-hop, etc., from these here wanin' Nineties. Toss in some world, country, bluegrass (love the banjotron!) and gospel wailing, patch it through some kinda sonic recyclatorium, add a killer sense for melody, and -- presto! -- information overload you can tap your toes to, a delirious romp at the hedonist's ball.
Declaring "I want to defy the logic of all sex laws" on the disc's punchy, horn-driven opener seems a tall order indeed (as if lust had any shred of logic behind it). But Beck skillfully regulates all of the fluids in his "garden of sleaze." The "man-thing"s and "mistress C.O.D."s of the album do the nasty far less than the machinery seems to. From a lyrical standpoint, this stuff suppresses the urge to knock boots in favor of the need to chuckle. Consider ironic sentiments such as "You make a garbage man scream," "What's your zip code, baby" and "I'm glad I got my suit dry-cleaned before the riots started" before checking your pulse, horndogs. Not exactly Charles Bukowski rising from the grave to host a new-age men's encounter session, is it?
The standout track "Nicotine & Gravy" pits a slow, menacing groove replete with scratches, a cowbell and a fuzz-bottom bassline flush against space-age noise and back-masking dissonance; it conjures up the scarier parts of Sgt. Pepper's "Day in the Life" before launching into what sounds like Armenian wedding music. "Milk & Honey" is another meticulously crafted beaut, with guest guitarist Johnny Marr in a cheery thud ruckus that borrows clavinets -- whatever those are -- and broken furniture. "Debra," a terrifically soulful number that was formerly a signature live-encore number, finally finds its rightful home on disc. The steamy cut contains elements of "My Love for You," by Ramsey Lewis, and is a slow-burnin' hunka hankerin' ("Oh, how Jenny's fine coozadelic sister, Debra, is the sweet young thang to 'get with,' baby") that demonstrates Beck's astounding white-boy vocal range: a weightless falsetto to rival both Mick Jagger and Gene Ween.
Sure, Beck's a Grammy-winnin' freak of nature on a huge, greedy label with money and toys to burn. So what. He's the best one we've got.