Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jeff Beck: You Had It Coming (2001)


What a strange cultural event. Well, I mean, we knew we had it coming, but we never knew it would come out so quick. Who Else! was Beck’s last proper studio album in as much as ten years (the ridiculous stunt of Crazy Legs certainly doesn’t count), and now Jeff goes ahead and releases his next offering with less than a two-year interval. The last time he had such a small interval, of course, was with the sequence of Blow By Blow and Wired, and it’s no surprise: just like those two albums were basically a continuation of each other, expanding on the same vibe of jazz-fusion, Beck’s two latest albums also expand on the same topic – Jeff’s obsession with Nineties’ technologies, trip-hop and techno rhythms, which he uses as the basis for some pretty innovative guitarwork.

You can’t help feeling that You Had It Coming is still a rushed album, though. For one thing, it is almost astoundingly short – ten numbers that end in thirty-six minutes, something more suitable for an EP format today. Moreover, in comparison with the last album, this one is blatantly underarranged. Basically, the only thing that is audible here is Jeff’s guitar (sometimes with overdubs, more often not) and the loud crashing drum machines (the beat is always processed – there’s not even a single drummer in the credits). There are a few synths scattered around, but not on a single track do they appear to be prominent; the only prominent synths are those through which Beck plugs in his devilish instrument. No vocals, as usual, save for a weird cover of ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’ and a few moans and groans on other tracks, provided by a certain Imogen Heap.

Amazingly, it all works, and it works far, far better than on the preceding album. The main thing is: Jeff isn’t overshadowed by any friggin’ keyboard players. No Jan Hammer, no Tony Hymas, nobody. Just Jeff and his guitar. And he does deliver the goods – for the most part, he eschews the usual finger-flashing soloing (which still steps through in a couple of places, though) in favour of blazing, screeching, rip-roaring, metallic riffage and occasional “jazz-hop” flourishes… er, I don’t even have the proper word to describe what the heck the man is doing here. The result is – a set of energetic, furious instrumental tracks that are mostly memorable and certainly prompt you to action, plus a wild, unparalleled sound that few people have dared to explore. That dreary picture on the cover, with scorched hands and all, is very appropriate – the sound is so dry and scorching it makes me wanna haul out that bottle of Coke from the fridge.

No wonder the lead-in track is called ‘Earthquake’. The riff that introduces the number really threatens to bury you in almost a Tony Iommi-esque way, only it is even more punchy and aggressive than your average Tony Iommi riff. I do sometimes get offended at the generic drum beats, but it’s perfectly easy to just abstract oneself from the genericity and concentrate on Beck’s playing. The wah-wah stylizations on ‘Roy’s Toy’ will blow you away; but perhaps the creepiest of all are the broken dirty chords that announce ‘Dirty Mind’. Simply put, Jeff has never played like that before… both the introductory dirty chords and the main wah-wah riff of the track are so black, paranoid, soul-tearing that you can’t but admire them. Too bad they have to be accompanied by unimaginative trip-hop beats. Hey, is it possible to acquire a copy of You Had It Coming without the drumbeats? The worst fear of my life now is that one day I’ll find that ‘Dirty Mind’ is blasting from a speaker in a supermarket or used in a Jaguar commercial. Whoever pays attention to the amazing guitarwork? All they need is a good trip-hop drive.

Which is why ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’ will hardly be featured in a Jaguar commercial. The only vocal spot on the album (and that chick does a pretty good work on it, too), it’s mind-blowing. It’s not even techno or anything – the drumming is more in a ‘martial’ style than anything, and Beck’s electronic interpretation of the classic riff of Muddy Waters is unimitable. That dry, uncompromised guitar tone, combined with elements of blues, hair metal, grunge, whatever… it’s wonderful.

Describing most of the other tracks would be useless: most of the album is pretty monotonous in style, the difference is just in the particular riff (although it should be mentioned that ‘Left Hook’ has a few ear-shattering solos as well). True to his style, Beck also inserts a few ‘lighter’ numbers, like the pretty balladesque ‘Nadia’, the short atmospheric drumless interlude ‘Blackbird’ (which has nothing to do with the Beatles song), and ends the record with the minimalistic, thought-provoking ‘Suspension’ which is a good tune to relax to after the thunderstorm.

All in all, this isn’t a great album, because, face it, it could have been better. A little longer; a little more diverse; and the drumwork could have been tons more satisfying if Jeff’d bother hiring a real drummer. Yeah, I understand that’s the whole point: to prove that today’s mainstream music can be transformed into high quality art with a bit of experimentation and a bit of real talent. Alas, this is unprovable – eggs are eggs, and techno drumbeat is techno drumbeat. Techno drumbeat is by now so tightly associated with teen-pop and mindless hip-hop that I see no use in this move.

On the other hand, the guitarwork is breathtaking – and it amply demonstrates that more than thirty-five years into his career, Mr Beck still got it and isn’t going to give it up. Not just the flame, but also the will to experiment. All praise the Master, and I still hope that this album isn’t the last we’re gonna hear of him. Good as it is, it’s still essentially just a throwaway. Now where’s that real Jeff Beck masterpiece we’re waiting for?

May 13, 2010 - Posted by | Jeff Beck You Had It Coming |

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