“Spin” Goes Back To Beck

Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

To whom does Spin turn to helm its September ’08 issue? To an artist who came to light in 1994, a guy who a signed a contract that guaranteed him the ability to release music on indie labels but nonetheless went straight into the major-label breach and has remained there since, despite a consistently professed indifference towards how corporate machination may impact him. An artist whose modus operandi split the difference between the Sub Pop and electronica eras, upon both of which Spin bet the farm in the 1990s.

Beck Hansen could have been made up by a couple of mid-’90s Spin editors over the phone. Follow the guy around for a week or so, try to engage him in conversation, transcribe the useful portions of the conversation, throw in references to “bricolage” and “William Burroughs’ cut-up technique,” and you had Spin gold.

This formula held true from the release of Mellow Gold and through that of Midnite Vultures, a five-year period when even folks who found him too affected and too “look at all the records I have and how cleverly I combine them” would be hard-pressed to deny that Beck had pretty hot hands.

Your very own Correspondent more or less thinks Beck is a worthwhile artist; he hasn’t much affection for the “croak into a mic while blooped and bleeped iterations of Skip Spence’s Oar creeps along” tendency common to Sea Change and Beck’s most recent Modern Guilt. While he prefers Beck with a spring in his step, it should be noted that Guero and The Information didn’t yank his crank.

Beck probably would have benefited from a more protracted break in the last decade than he’s taken. He’s often been compared to another little “musical genius,” but YC thinks the example of Prince from about 1992 to 2000, as a guy who refused to go away for awhile and recharge, is instructive w/r/t to Beck’s productivity. Both can depend on die-hard fans to take an interest in whatever they do, but other folks’ interest will flag until a vital vein happens to be tapped. (YC should say it is not for him to dictate a musician’s work-rate and how a musician wishes to provide for his dependents.)

So here’s Beck, two months away from the release of Modern Guilt and on tour in Europe. It is there that writer John McAlley shadows him for Spin‘s September 2008 cover story. The writer employs an overly cutesy conceit in “Reverberations: the Beck Sessions,” wherein story elements are presented as if they were tracks awaiting mixing at a recording session. We learn that Beck is diffident in conversation as ever; that he looks at Scientology as something that has always been in his life, vis-a-vis his father’s longstanding affiliation; and that, since Modern Guilt is the last record he’s obligated to deliver to Universal, his future records will probably be released independently.

And so it seems that Beck arrives on the cover of Spin simply because the editorial braintrust had no better option this month. Perhaps no suitably promising acts have been been spewed into an onerous major label recording contract from the undernourished maw of the indie-rock blawgosphere, which has been Spin‘s preferred scenario for the past year. But with this cover, perhaps the mag can attract older readers, them what have more of a print habit than their younger cousins and to whom Beck, despite needing a shot in the arm real bad, is a comfortable reminder of, y’know, how cool everything was in the 1990s. Kinda like Spin!

Now a few notes:

1. YC briefly listened to Canadian synthesizer terrorists Crystal Castles a while ago, and didn’t like what he heard. He had one look at the couple of pictures of Castle Ethan Kath in the photo essay “Thick as Thieves” and concluded that the guy was the patron saint of every smug, metal t-shirt wearing hipster cocksucker YC sees at every club show in New York City. Then he read the text, and learned that Kath used to be known as Ethan Deth, bassist for the biker-metal band Kill Cheerleader. YC interviewed Kath/Deth two years ago for a front-of-book article in Spin that did not result in further assignments from the mag. While he didn’t like Kill Cheerleader’s music, Deth/Kath was a most entertaining interviewee, which reminds YC that he should not summarily dismiss people who merely look like jerks.

2. It is not YC’s custom to criticize performers specifically with little regard to what it is written about them in a given mag. But indulge him this time! Patti Smith is the subject of this issue’s Spin Interview. Unlike Beck and Prince, Smith did indeed take a break from recording from 1979 to 1988 and again from 1989 to 1996, none of which has improved her profoundly doctrinaire, “rock and roll is like poetry, maaaann” M.O. from abject worthlessness. YC believes Smith to be an artist who is only concerned with a pompous, oracular spoken-word tradition that, frankly, is intolerable without a strong basis in, y’know, being musical. So there!

3. Finally, Marc Weingarten pens “Speak of the Devil,” a story regarding Stanton LaVey, the grandson of Satanic Bible auteur Anton LaVey. It’s a pretty engaging portrait of a young man who dines out in Los Angeles on his grandfather’s reputation–running around with strippers and porn stars, hanging out with Marilyn Manson and Hank III and otherwise acts transgressively for a modest living. Consequently, most conscientious Satanists (presumably including his mother, with whom he is estranged) believe him to be a lightweight, rather like lots of celebrity scions.