“If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it,” raps Saffron on “Pork-U-Pine,” the third track on Jeff Beck’s minimally titled Jeff. And he does. Beck teams with producer Andy Wright, the man responsible for his more complete immersion into electronic backdrops on his last outing, You Had It Coming. This time the transition is complete. Beck used electronica first on Who Else!, moved a little more into the fire on You Had It Coming, and here merges his full-on Beck-Ola guitar heaviness with the sounds of contemporary spazz-out big beats and noise. Beck and Wright employ Apollo 440 on “Grease Monkey” and “Hot Rod Honeymoon,” and use a number of vocalists, including the wondrously gifted Nancy Sorrell, on a host of tracks, as well as the London Session Orchestra on others (such as “Seasons,” where hip-hop, breakbeats, and old-school Tangerine Dream sequencing meet the guitarist’s deep blues and funk-drenched guitar stylings).
As for atmospherics, David Torn (aka producer Splattercell) offers a shape-shifting mix of glitch tracks on “Plan B” for Beck to wax on both acoustically and electrically, and make them weigh a ton. But it’s on cuts like “Trouble Man,” a purely instrumental big drum and guitar skronk workout, where Beck truly shines here. With a rhythm section of Dean Garcia and Steve Barney — and Tony Hymas appears as well — Beck goes completely overboard: the volume screams and the sheer crunch of his riffs and solos split the rhythm tracks in two, then four, and finally eight, as he turns single-string runs into commentaries on everything from heavy metal to East Indian classical music.
The industrial crank and burn of “Grease Monkey” is an outing fraught with danger for the guitarist, who has to whirl away inside a maelstrom of deeply funky noise — and Beck rides the top of the wave into dirty drum hell and comes out wailing. For those who feel they need a dose of Beck’s rootsier and bluesier playing, there is one, but the context is mentally unglued. “Hot Rod Honeymoon” is a drum and bass sprint with Beck playing both slide and Texas-style blues à la Albert Collins, letting the strings bite into the beats. The vocals are a bit cheesy, but the entire track is so huge it’s easy to overlook them. “Line Dancing With Monkeys” has a splintered Delta riff at its core, but it mutates, shifts, changes shape, and becomes the kind of spooky blues that cannot be made with conventional instruments. His turnarounds into the myopic rhythms provide a kind of menacing foil to their increasing insistence in the mix.
Before gabber-style drum and bass threaten to break out of the box, Beck’s elongated bent-note solos tame them. “JB’s Blues” is the oddest thing here because it’s so ordinary; it feels like it belongs on an updated Blow By Blow. In all this is some of the most emotionally charged and ferocious playing of Beck’s career. Within the context of contemporary beatronica, Beck flourishes. He find a worthy opponent to tame in the machines, and his ever-present funkiness is allowed to express far more excess than restraint. This is as fine a modern guitar record as you are ever going to hear. ~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
Ever since his days with The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck has positioned himself as an experimentalist with the electric guitar. Through his pioneering days as a heavy rocker (Truth, Beck-Ola) as well as his groundbreaking fusion efforts (Blow by Blow, Wired), the iconoclastic Brit has displayed almost a tangible hunger to find new sounds. Little surprise then that he’s been exploring the electronica terrain for his last three projects, including the recently released Jeff.
Beck has left much of the technical side of these projects to various co-producers and studio whizzkids, here including, but not limited to, Andy Wright, Apollo 440 and David Tom of splattercell. Both Who Else? and You Had It Coming placed such contemporary approaches squarely within the context of Jeff Beck’s own loyalty to the blues and his innate love of melody That’s true of the new album too, but by a decidedly different means: here Beck and co. incorporate rather than compartmentalize the musical and instrumental themes. Hearing “So What,” and “Pork-U-Pine’ must be similar to riding with Beck in one of his souped-up hotrods as pictured on the cd liner: the roar of his guitar playing on top of a rhythm track chassis that rattles on the turns but holds the corners, the latter in particular carrying such a visceral wallop, it’s tantamount to being inside the engine of such a vehicle itself. In contrast, “Plan B,” uses acoustic guitars to create the first of many infectious hooks that appear on this disc, while the whimsically titled “Line Dancing with Monkeys” features sleek sinuous playing and “My Thing” adds dollops of funk to the mix, a densely-layered sound where bass and treble textures combine to create a massive resounding soundscape.
The cd doesn’t maintain an altogether dangerous pace throughout however. As with the previous pair of albums, the team of musicians and producers has created tracks allowing the guitarist to demonstrate his gift for the economical rendering of a beautiful melody and here that approach takes a couple different forms. “Bulgaria” is a folk tune given just a two-minute exploration that is, in turns, pretty, poignant and piercing. The original spiritual “Why Lord Oh Why,” composed by long-time Beck keyboard comrade Tony Hymas, gets a treatment roughly double the length, but with no less a beautiful and gentle Beckian touch. This pair of tracks segue the album to a muted conclusion, after an often brainrattling ride, but the same sort of delicacy also appears long before the finish during “Seasons:” just when you might least expect it, the cacophony dies down for a softer interlude, this transition in keeping with the unpredictable logic that marks Beck’s guitar playing throughout.
As is to be expected, the backing tracks displays a distinct monotony in direct contract to that unpredictability. Consequently, though you might wish some cuts were longer, the uniformly abbreviated playing times of three and half to four and a half minutes serves a better purpose throughout the rest of the album(and not coincidentally but most effectively, where vocals are most prominent in the arrangement). “Pay Me No Mind” is tantalizingly short but to the point, ending, like “Hot Rod Honeymoon,” just in time, while “Trouble Man” suffices in its own compact form, nevertheless leaving to the imagination what Jeff might do with it live with more time to work with it. “JB’s Blues,” will evoke a similar reaction, begging the question whether, if Beck can be so lavish in his praise of his current road band as he has, he should take them into the studio or record them onstage.
It may be true that innumerable artists(sic) could’ve made this album(and have already made similar ones), but it is also a fact no one could’ve made such a recording more his own than Jeff Beck. Imprinting his personality on this often-generic style with such authority the eponymous title could be no more appropriate, he proves once again why he is arguably the most distinctive and dynamic electric guitarist on the planet.
From BBC Music
Something strange has been happening to Jeff Beck. Rock’s aristocracy, unlike jazzers or classical dudes, tend to be stuck in a cycle of diminishing returns. The older they get, the less challenging or groundbreaking their music becomes; rock guitarists doubly so. A look at Jeff Beck’s contemporaries (Page, Clapton, Green et al) reveals either minimal activity or a willingness to hide in twelve-bar mediocrity. Not Jeff. Following a virtually albumless 90s he gives us his third album of high-wire virtuosity and electronic shenanigans in four years. What’s more, he’s never sounded more vital.
Whereas it’s now common currency to team up with younger, hipper names to make the album appeal to a more fresh-faced demographic, Jeff has, seemingly, bothered to try something genuinely new with this release. Bringing in techno monkeys Apollo 440 as producers on two tracks (”Grease Monkey”, ”Hot Rod Honeymoon”), and experimentalist (and no mean fusion guitarist himself) David Torn on two more (”Plan B”, ”Line Dancing With Monkeys”), he’s signalling that the forward-looking embrace of technological hard-edged grooves evinced on 1999’s Who Else and the follow-up You Had It Coming was no simple flirtation with the modern. Jeff himself says he’s: ”trying to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to stop playing”. How he’s done this is by finally finding a simpler template, mainly shorn of vocals, that allows him to shred the fretboard in 100 different ways in the space of one tune and, at the same time, make those noises count for something.
Jeff’s other true love, the automobile, gets its customary look in with titles (the aforementioned tracks with Apollo 440) and voice samples (partly provided by Mrs Vic Reeves -Nancy Sorrell) and some of the speedier cuts on offer really do convey the spirit of hurtling metal along a race track. Strings squeal like tyres on blacktop. At other times Beck’s sensitivity and tone brings tears to the eyes. ”JB’s Blues” is a lesson in taste while the closing ”Why Lord Oh Why” (written by Tony Hymas) is a string-laden wonder. Most importantly this never ever sounds like a man who’s desperately trying to keep up. These sheets of electronic noise at times aren’t a million miles away from the so-called nu-jazz that’s made Scandinavia such a hotbed of new talent.
A whole generation of axe-maulers have used Beck’s flashy template as an excuse to disappear up their own flange pedals (we’re talking Steve Vai, Joe Satriani etc. here), but most forget that Beck himself, even in his most self-indulgent fusion moments, always strove for something different. A true psychedelicist until the last, his youthful joy in making an unholy racket is only matched by his unimpeachable expertise. There’s plenty of life in this old dog…
From The Independent
“If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it,” claims a female voice on “Pork-U-Pine”, one of a slew of typical Jeff Beck instrumentals on this follow-up to 1999’s Who Else!. She’s right – Beck’s guitaris more eloquent than his voice, whether he’s squeezing out an impassioned, tense piece in the vein of Norwegian jazz-rocker Terje Rypdal, or blasting his way through a showcase like “So What”, a plunging, vertiginous opening shower of guitar pyrotechnics and careening cop-siren stunt-guitar tricks. “Plan B” makes the point aptly, as Beck makes his guitar speak in a series of “talking guitar” phrases demonstrating his peerless command of touch, tone, and string-bending. This isdazzling technique that makes lesser guitarists – i.e. everyone else – pack up and take up crochet. But there’s nothing here that would pass muster as a tune: Beck’s wizardry is expressed in small clusters of apparently impossible guitar phrases, the musical equivalent of a match carelessly tossed into a box of fireworks. Acc
“If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it,” claims a female voice on “Pork-U-Pine”, one of a slew of typical Jeff Beck instrumentals on this follow-up to 1999’s Who Else!. She’s right – Beck’s guitaris more eloquent than his voice, whether he’s squeezing out an impassioned, tense piece in the vein of Norwegian jazz-rocker Terje Rypdal, or blasting his way through a showcase like “So What”, a plunging, vertiginous opening shower of guitar pyrotechnics and careening cop-siren stunt-guitar tricks. “Plan B” makes the point aptly, as Beck makes his guitar speak in a series of “talking guitar” phrases demonstrating his peerless command of touch, tone, and string-bending. This isdazzling technique that makes lesser guitarists – i.e. everyone else – pack up and take up crochet. But there’s nothing here that would pass muster as a tune: Beck’s wizardry is expressed in small clusters of apparently impossible guitar phrases, the musical equivalent of a match carelessly tossed into a box of fireworks. Accordingly, these 13 tracks are reliant on vocal samples or special effects; on “Hot Rod Honeymoon”, a stew of car-race effects, admiring phrases like “what a set of wheels!”, and even snatches of harmony-vocals parodying The Beach Boys’ car songs customise the fast, slippery slide guitar runs, without stamping the track with any distinctive melody. An awe-inspiring demo, but not to be played for pleasure’s sake alone.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to read the text from a heated discussion: a thread that had appeared in a USA Forum. The topic? “What happened to guitar solos?” Of course, most of the arguments were quite predictable, just like the sighs for a long-gone era. There were also many examples, some quite well-known, others that weren’t. This discussion came back to me a few days later, when I turned my faithful radio on (it’s always tuned to the radio station from the nearby NATO base) and I had the chance to listen to: Godsmack, Rage Against The Machine, The White Stripes, Staind, Black Sabbath, Saliva and Queens Of The Stone Age (what was missing? Audioslave, Tool, Mars Volta?). It’s pretty obvious that, when confronted with this scenario, some would say: “Come back, Zep, all is forgiven”. Quite a few have said it, in fact: How The West Was Won – the triple CD of unreleased Led Zeppelin live tapes – went straight to number one the day it came out. Sure, the “guitar solo” topic is a heated one. What “playing guitar” means, too. And if we keep in mind that for some people Kurt Cobain or Thurston Moore are good guitar players… well, the situation is pretty hopeless (in England is even worse!).
Inventive intros, moody solos that are always on the edge, highly original timbres: these are the qualities that have always been peculiar to Jeff Beck since his Yardbirds days – almost forty years ago! -, not the “long, self-indulgent” solos that many nowadays love to hate. So I was more than a bit perplexed when some guys called him “a metal player” the first time I had the opportunity to catch him live, one night in 1998. He had been silent since Guitar Shop from 1989 – I’m not counting Frankie’s House and the like. Beck (that’s his name, right?) took the stage with the support of a “black house” rhythm section and of Jennifer Batten’s Midi (and so “orchestral”) guitar. The following year, Who Else! offered a varied program, highlighting the “explosive with finesse” atmosphere of that concert (What Mama Said, Brush With The Blues, Blast From The East, Space For The Papa), and so those techno/hip hop rhythms. This choice was confirmed in the Pro Tools dimension of You Had It Coming (2001), a short album that seemed to be somewhat boring (or was it Beck that had become bored while working on it?).
The new album, Jeff, brings good news. Those who hate the “versatile rigidity” of the machines will not enjoy it: there is a “real” rhythm section (Dean Garcia and Steve Barney) which sounds pretty much like a mechanical one, lotsa loops. But the variety of approaches by different producers makes this CD varied and quite easy to enjoy – on very different levels. There is a lot of blues, at times literally. David Torn manipulates two tracks (Plan B and Line Dancing With Monkeys), with very good results. JB’s Blues sees the instrumental participation of Tony Hymas, just like the explosive Why Lord Oh Why, which closes the album. My Thing successfully updates James Brown, while Pay Me No Mind (Beck himself on vocals!) pays homage to Cliff Gallup. True, some things are not so successful, and Hot Rod Honeymoon borders on novelty. But since for Jeff Beck the real proof on the music is on a stage, and a record should only be an approximation or a souvenir…
(To promote this “techno” CD Jeff Beck is now on tour with Tony Hymas and Terry Bozzio.)