“Is Hyperspace Inherently DISPOSABLE?”

Oh, how different of a time December of 2019 seems like now! This Beck album came on me out of nowhere (actually making me revamp my “best albums of the decade list” slightly) whilst my present ideal was Wilco’s Ode to Joy and those rocking Eat Fire Spring romps. 

And, while having proclaimed myself a huge Beck fan since first hearing “Loser,” and especially since taking the unthinkably weird tracks on the “Loser” single, I hadn’t, at this point, even remotely enjoyed anything he’d released since The Information (2006). Also, as I allude to in a post from a couple weeks ago, the element of hip-hop emceeing is crucial in that album’s efficacy.

Hyperspace, by contrast, is defiantly poppy, a makeup which, of course, would theoretically threaten to plumb it down into the subterranean level of awfulness at this point unique to Midnite Vultures, within his catalogue. Well, in no way do I think Hyperspace is that bad. I mean, all of these songs are at least pretty good, for the most part, and they’re not like bizarre Dadaist come-ons designed for people who have sniffed too much glue.

But with this constant fabric of “poppiness,” of course, we get the negated ability to exist within genre, and this is dangerous territory for any artist. I mean, you could write an August and Everything after, I suppose, arguably the best pop album ever, and if you do you wouldn’t be hindered by having T Bone Burnett twirling the sound knobs, of course. 

The whole thing, that is, smacks of sacrifice. Beck needs his hip-hop emceeing aspect to create a vital album, like Odelay, like Guero and like The Information. The exceptions are instances of extreme, palpable heartbreak lording over the proceedings (Mutations, Sea Change), and, of course, instances of Pharrell writing the whole album (Hyperspace). 

Now, in no way is Pharrell prone to disposable fluff. I think anybody would know this. His primary genre, of course, is hip-hop, which would seem to lend itself to saving Beck’s career (which to a certain extent he did on Hyperspace), what with the latter’s former run-in with The Dust Brothers for the brilliant Odelay. 

The crux of what I’m trying to get at, anyway, is grounded pretty firmly in the track “Die Waiting.” Now, I don’t think that anyone would deny that this is a catchy tune. It’s like an especially above-average fast food jingle. And I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that when I observed Beck songs that just had ANY commendable and catchy aspects to them, I overreacted and declared this album the next Odelay, which it’s obviously not, in terms of artistic depth. 

It’s a song that’s apparently about his son, declaring his willingness to “die waiting” for him. The song breezes along lightly and spherically, then, incorporating any number of ingratiating sounds and production effects from the great Pharrell, without, though, really ever explicating what in particular the song’s about. Why does Beck have to wait on his son? And how would you feel being that son and having this song juxtaposed so closely with “Uneventful Days”? And Christ, if Beck thought 2019 was uneventful… plus, the premise of “Die Waiting” is just so cheesy. It reminds me of that “die for each other” line in that “Cool for the Summer” song I used to have to hear at this one bar where I cooked. It’s like corporate America lurched back out of its sleep and once again declared us the “land of the free,” for us to lunge ourselves at death for the sake of eating some more meals at McDonald’s and owning a robot for cleaning our kitchens.

“Chemical” is another pretty decent tune, but very stylistically similar to “Die Waiting”; and to “Dark Places”; and to “Star”; the other three best tunes on the album, with one exception. In my opinion, “Stratosphere” stands as a the clear-cut choice track on this album, a stoned-out masterpiece of radio pop that plays like a dream and like a beautiful, ironically potent endorsement of isolation, which, of course, makes it an ideal anthem of the shutdown. Even this tune, at this point, has started to get stale to me — for its incredible catchiness and dreamlike quality, there’s just so little there in terms of physical substance. In Beck’s catalogue, I think, Hyperspace will end up going down as a great dessert — sweet, inviting and often breathtaking, but not really anything that’s going to get you through a tough workday. But then, that’s why the rock gods bequeathed us “Sweet Sunshine,” I guess. 


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