Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Loser" (1994)

14. Beck, "Loser" (March 5, 1994, #10)

Beck's one and only hit (for all I know, his one and only attempt at one) is typically enough cobbled together from a lot of pieces—a slide guitar, a sitar figure, a Dr. John drum track, some random Spanish verse, a bracing tumble of words, and I think I hear George Bush (the elder) in there too. Out of this welter emerges a potent vocal hook in the chorus, easily sung and not soon forgotten: "I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me." The album from which it comes, Mellow Gold, has little else to recommend it (YMMV) and it would be another two years still before Beck had begun to successfully transform himself into the beloved album artist that he remains even now. Compare the career flight path of Radiohead, with their hit "Creep" followed by a lengthy interval before The Bends (and especially OK Computer) and ensuing status as generational touchstone. In both cases, the early hit songs were at once aberrations from the eventual catalog and yet almost perfect anticipations of it too. In many ways, particularly at its moment in time, "Loser" seems like a kind of left-handed if obviously inadvertent tribute to self-slain Kurt Cobain, which only added to its iconic gesture. In the Rorschach morass of it can be heard strains of heaving depression, infantile sarcasm, the usual self-deprecating irony, and the kind of humor on which a person can survive, all of which only go to further compound the bewildering depths of it. Beck, walking himself back a bit from it, is reported to have later said, "The raps and vocals are all first takes. If I’d known the impact it was going to make, I would have put something a little more substantial in it." Me, I'm pretty sure it doesn't deserve the denigration.

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