Emblematic of 90s’ rock music as a whole, wherein the only new ideas were the recycling of old ideas or the half-assed mixing of different ideas. “Loser” is perhaps the most puzzling song there ever was, a novelty song that should have been a one-hit wonder that should not have been taken seriously that should have gotten homeless man a place to live for a bit but instead got him a multi-decade long career with ever-lasting job security that everyone took way too seriously (“Give the finger to the rock ‘n’ roll singer / As he’s dancing upon your paycheck” indeed), including Beck; as I write, he’s off making songbooks instead of songs and creating 10-minute remixes for every single he puts out and stealing Radiohead sounds and Simon & Garfunkel melodies and passing them off his own.
As for “Loser,” talk about right-place-right-time syndrome, with the words “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me” becoming the anthem people needed after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, with an acceptable sound for the rock kids to revel in as hip-hop became a cultural juggernaut, with irony becoming a fucking language, and with everyone figuring out they could be a rockstar if they had a guitar and something to record it with. Don’t get me wrong, “Loser” is a great song, with a great blues riff and hip-hop drums and tons of quotables (personal favorite: “my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite / Who’s chokin’ on the splinters”), but the riff isn’t nerely enough to carry the 4-minute song though Beck clearly thinks it is (and somehow has the nerve to stretch it out even longer in some live renditions) and the song isn’t even close to Beck’s best song. “Lost Cause?” “Girl?” “Think I’m In Love?” “Chemtrails?”
It’s revealing that rarely anyone actually talks about the rest of the album while they lavishly praise it, just throwing some buzz words at it and hoping that’ll do. Bob Dylan gets namedropped a lot, as if the man had recently died even though he was prepping for a comeback, and every time someone compares Beck’s absurdity to Bob Dylan’s, a bee who was minding his or her own business dies. Unlike Bob Dylan’s absurdity, Beck’s isn’t funny or revealing about humanity or has any particular use beyond being absurd; he has the nerve of opening the album’s second and second best song with him puking (a decade before Eminem did the same on Encore, if that means anything) and part of me dies every time he sings “Like a giant dildo crushing the sun” because I just know there are people out there who think its some amazing line because he uses the word “dildo.”
The good stuff, and there ain’t much: a few mild hooks in the songs that appear before the less catchy “Loser” rewrite that is “Soul Suckin Jerk”; the backing vocals during “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997” (at the 1:17 mark, after “She can talk to squirrels”) and the whistling buried deep in the background of the same song; Beck sounding like he’s falling down on “Nitemare Hippy Girl” (“I’m caught in a vortex, she’s changing my styyyyyle”), the occasional quotable and some surprisingly good textures on closer “Blackhole.” What else is there? The 5-minute dirge that is “Steal My Body Home” that happens to have a sitar? The obvious Surfer Rosa-inspired filler of “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)”? The hideous “Sweet Sunshine” and “Mutherfuker” that remind me of how ugly the Yu-Gi-Oh 1-star monster of the cover is? The bonus track present on every 90s’ rock album of rockstars who had nothing better to do than waste their own time and ours?
The truth about Beck that I’ve been sitting on for far too long is that the guy’s a single artist with like ten albums under his belt but no best of compilation in sight; so grab “Loser” off this one and you’re already underway to making your own. Be sure to end the compilation with his 9-minute and 160-person live cover of “Sound and Vision” which I’m convinced is the greatest thing he’s ever done, even if it is over-the-top and Beck pretends he’s a God throughout it. And when you’re done that, make a compilation of the best Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Pavement, Ween and Radiohead songs that inspired him or sound like him and realize that Beck was nowhere near his influences and/or contemporaries.