NPR logo Old Music Tuesday: Beck's 'Odelay' at 10 (Okay, 12)

Old Music Tuesday: Beck's 'Odelay' at 10 (Okay, 12)

Geffen Records is re-releasing Beck's phenomenal masterpiece Odelay today with a bonus disc featuring 16 previously unreleased rarities, remixes and b-sides. Odelay has never sounded better and the bonus tracks are worthy of their own release. Together they'd make up one of Beck's best albums ever. The label had planned on dropping this glorious little package on Odelay's tenth birthday in 2006, but ended up postponing the project.

I can count a handful of moments in my life that made my eyes pop — moments that made me think, "this changes everything!" Hearing Odelay for the first time was one of those moments. (Discovering Tivo, the iPhone and my memory foam bed all had this effect, too).

I was living in Japan, teaching English to middle school students when Odelay first hit stores in 1996. I can very vividly remember browsing the stacks at a local CD shop in Nagoya when the opening notes of "Devil's Haircut" leapt from the overhead speakers. I froze and thought, "What the hell is that!?"

I knew Beck from his monster-hit "Loser" released a couple of years earlier, which definitely hinted at greater things to come. But Odelay took everyone by surprise. It was an orgy of sound, bursting with ideas. But it wasn't a mess to hear, it was melodic. The sudden instrumental and rhythmic shifts, coupled with Beck's curiously odd lyrics ("Driving my pig while the bear's taking pictures in the grass") made it impossible to ever be bored listening.

I decided to play it for my students in Japan. The teachers gathered the entire student body together in the gymnasium to hear it. About 15-hundred students sat on the floor in their uniforms while I blasted "The New Pollution" from the PA system. Afterward I asked them to write a few sentences in English explaining what they thought it all meant. The responses were utter nonsense, with most of them simply saying "Nice to meet you!"

I decided that's about as good an explanation as anyone could give.

Watch a video for "New Pollution"