The first of Beck’s soft rock, no nonsense efforts, Mutations is almost offensively inoffensive.
The songs are slow, they don’t really go anywhere, and Beck doesn’t do anything to impress or really even show any kind of emotion in his vocal performance, which comes off as a knockoff of Kurt Kobain on a few songs.
But there’s also nothing particularly annoying or bad about the songs or the style at all. Every song is just…fine, but as a whole the album is so incredibly dull.
There are three and a half good songs on here — “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” “Tropicalia,” “Static,” and the hidden track right after it. The production on “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” is interesting and matches the whole, quasi-60s Beatles vibe Beck is going for on this album. The chill, a little jazzy coffee shop groove on “Tropicalia” sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other songs, but in a welcome way. It’s a refreshing change from the faux country music in front and behind it.
Other moments are interesting, too, but fall a little short. I think “Static” has got a lot of cool stuff going on with the bells, the distortion fading in and out and some cool guitar work. On an album that was more upbeat I think this would have been a really nice change of pace, but on an album that’s very slow and soft already I think it gets a little lost, but deserves a deeper look. Even though “Diamond Bollocks” is a mess, and starts up and stops a bunch and is scattered, it’s a lot closer to fun, upbeat Beck than the rest of the record, and for that it really stands out. The bass and the somewhat intense guitar at the chorus are exciting and a burst of energy on an album severely lacking it.
Beck is a really fun and weird artist, but every few albums he tries to show that he can be more serious and that he has a more conventional side to him. Mutations is the first example of this, but also the least impressive. Sea Change in 2003 has a little more energy and a more thoroughly developed sound overall, while Morning Phase in 2014 recreates that vibe but with a few nods to classic rock tradition, which I enjoy enough.
I understand Mutations was the first time Beck changed up his style in this way, and he probably impressed fans and critics with his range and versatility, but when you know that he has so much more to offer that’s this same style, but better, in the future, it’s hard to really appreciate that alleged innovation.
Without a standout single to draw you in, and sandwiched between Odelay and Midnite Vultures —two good and extremely quirky records — it really just falls flat.