Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jeff Beck: Who Else! (1999)

jeff_beck_whoelseFrom Starling.rinet.ru

Who else? Well, for my money, practically anybody. This is Beck’s first serious artistic statement in exactly a decade (I refuse to view Crazy Legs as anything more than a gimmick), and the result is definitely less than completely satisfactory. As far as I can figure out, the usual critical assessment of this record goes something like ‘yup, it’s the good old Jeff, but fans will probably be disappointed by the production’. You bet your life they will. While Beck still teams up with old pals like Jan Hammer and Tony Hymas, the production values for about half of the tracks are totally hi-tech, and on some of the tunes – hold your horses! – Jeff goes as far as to employ techno and trip-hop beats. Actually, it was quite possible to suspect him of being possible to catch the disease: Jeff had always been sniffing out the fashions, and his albums never sounded ‘outdated’; but for some unclear reason I still hoped the techno virus wouldn’t catch him. It did – and dit it exactly at a stage where, as it is my firm belief, techno is already fading and on the way out; at the least, employing techno beats at the present time does harm your reputation where it probably didn’t five years ago or so. Late as usual, but never you mind. I actually sat through tunes like ‘What Mama Said’, ‘Psycho Sam’ and ‘THX138′ three times – but I will never do that any more, nossiree, I’ll just program my CD, thank you very much.

But anyway, I would forgive Beck for going techno if only he didn’t forget to deliver the usual goods. After all, the numbers on Guitar Shop weren’t that groovy either, melodywise, but everything was compensated by those warp-speed solos and the incredible playing technique which really lifts the listener out of his chair and splats him against the wall. And after all, one can even get used to the electronica stuff. Yes, time works wonders – once I would have just shoved this piece o’ plastic under the bed without further thinking, now I’m… yeah, I’m actually listening to this! Holy crap, I’m even LIKING PARTS of this! Shouldn’t probably be watching the generic techno numbers on MTV last night.

Nevertheless, I was talking about Jeff’s guitar playing on this particular album. And this is where I have my rub against the critics – because I really couldn’t tell this was a Jeff Beck album if not told so previously. The guitarwork on most of the songs (by the way, I think I forgot to say that the album follows the ‘instrumental’ tradition: no vocals whatsoever) is terribly subdued, especially on the more modernistic ones. Hey, did you actually hear the guitar at all on ‘What Mama Said’? On ‘Psycho Sam’, Beck sounds like he’s not really playing his instrument but plugging it through a computer; ‘Space For The Papa’ is a deadly long (eight minutes), boring, monotonous electronic jam with the guitar often sticking to the background, and the main emphasis on a catchy, but rather banal synth riff. I must say that when Beck does really step in on that instrument in certain places, he does it with vehemency – but eight minutes? Pretty damn grim. Although, if you don’t have any problems with Nineties’ electronic fluff at all, ‘Space For The Papa’ will probably sound a masterpiece when compared to… to Prodigy.

Even more disspiriting are the numbers where El Becko actually picks up the instrument and gives it some punch. I was never much impressed, and still ain’t, with the only blues track on here, ‘Brush With The Blues’; anybody could have played that slow, uncomplicated, unspirited solo – really, you don’t need to be Jeff Beck to play like that. It’s not bad, really – it’s pretty tasteful background music, but you can get thousands of instrumentals like that! Where’s the distinction, dammit? And the same goes for all the other tracks – it sounds as if Beck really wasn’t that hot in the studio at recording time. In fact, the back cover of the album, where Jeff ain’t sitting and playing, but is instead relaxing in a chair after a presumably solid lunch, is much more telling. ‘Angel (Footsteps)’ is okay, and the folkish ballad ‘Declan’ near the end of the album is even moving in its own specific way, but even these two songs are average, nowhere near his best work. What the hell?

Okay, defense time. Apart from the two or three annoying electronica anthems, none of the instrumentals are bad. Very few are particularly memorable, either, but I did have a good time while listening to such punchy ones as ‘Even Odds’ or, especially, ‘Blast From The East’, whose melody I really loved – now there’s a fine dance number with quite a bit of originality. The stupidest thing about it is how it begins with a masterful acoustic riff, and then whammo whammo, in pop all the electronic drums and the robotic guitars. Yet the robotic guitars do a fine job in presenting us with one of Jeff’s all-time greatest riffs, well worthy of just about anything on his infamous fusion landmark records.

And in any case, Jeff can still play. I don’t know if the desire to tone down his technique was intentional or he’s just getting tired and old of the whole business, but the solos on the slow ballads are okay – you never get swept away by them, but while they’re on, they’re really moody and caressing and all that. I guess it all depends on your mood, anyway: last time I listened I almost wanted to give the album a good rating, but then it ended and I found out all my good memories were gone and only the bad remained, so I just had to re-think my idea. Then again, I just caught myself whistling that ‘ta-tum-ta-tam-ta-taaaaaauuuutam’ chord sequence from ‘Blast From The East’… Ah, what the heck. I’ll give it an overall rating of eight and let’s just pretend nobody noticed.

Seriously, this can only be recommended to diehard fans of Beck – and even then, only about a half of this, not more (I can hardly imagine a diehard Beck fan grooving to Hammer’s synths and computer drums on ‘What Mama Said’ or ‘Space For The Papa’). Let us just get together and pray and hope that by the year 2009 Beck comes to his senses and releases something that could actually be called fresh. All right?

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May 14, 2010 - Posted by | Jeff Beck Who Else! |

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