Rollin' in the Hyundai

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Odelay + Earth Wind & Fire + Prince + R. Kelly + too many miles logged on the celebrity freeway = Midnite Vultures.

When was the last time you laughed really, really hard both at an album and with an album? Prepare yourself, then, for full-frontal Beck before you spin the latest from Mr. Counterculture cut-and-paste.

Beck Hansen is smart enough; he's funny enough and, gosh darn it, people like him. And that's precisely why he's been able to make a popular career out of channeling and filtering both the indie underground's aesthetic du jour (in this case, its fascination with Soul — the music and the intangible state-of-being — and, unfortunately, retro-electro) and the pop music buying public's need for simultaneously thoughtful and guiltless diversionary entertainment. It's also why Midnite Vultures isn't a painful experience (though it can be cloying at times). No matter how often Beck tries to position himself as an earnest loverman in interviews, the recycled soul, R&B, funk and rock on Midnite Vultures succeeds because Hansen remains in it but not of it. When he invokes Earth, Wind and Fire's Philip Bailey with his falsetto yawp of "Turn it up niiaow!" on "Mixed Bizness," it's all surface, even if it is earnest. But do you have to be corpulent, ebony and velvet-clad to truly invoke Barry White and all he reprazents?

According to Beck's up-and-in-'em lead cut, "Sexx Laws," naawwww, babbby. With all the gush of the Love Unlimited daddy-o, he lays it out with "I want to defy/the logic of all sex laws/let the handcuffs slip off your wrists/I'll let you be my chaperone/at the halfway home/I'm a full grown man/but I'm not afraid to cry."

Peep those freakin' lyrics, people! To, er, grasp Beck's mojo may be to appreciate the imagination of — and parallel universe conjured by — the words he moans, squeals, shouts and speak-sings.

Midnite Vultures is neither the pop revolution of Odelay nor the easy-breezy low-key earnestness of Mutations. It is a revelation, though. And you'll laugh before you really scratch your head and dig in to the sex laws under the surface of these tweaky, beaty, basement workouts.

Mojo woulda loved this back in the day.

Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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