JEFF BECK – Beck-Ola (Epic ’69): Beck’s problem has always been emphasizing how he could fuck his guitar rather than how he could craft good tunes as vessels for guitar virtuoso delivery, so in that case it’s probably good so much of his career—and most of his best stuff, honestly—has been covers of other people’s songs. Which is why, compared to the ten-track, three-cover Truth, Beck-Ola is a far grimmer affair, with only seven songs at thirty minutes with five of those being originals. Coming less than a year after the debut, the album not only sounds rushed, it also sounds like it exists solely to push the limits of Beck’s idea of heaviness.
At least they had that irreverent streak vital to rock & roll; not everyone has the guts to cover not one, but two Elvis Presley favorites. Still, what made “Shapes of Things” so distinctive was its complete de- and reconstruction of the original song, whereas these renditions merely give the songs a loose groove. Hearing them on their own you might not think they’re too bad, though when you remember Presley’s takes it’s like comparing the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to Mountain’s sludgy cover.
Not only that, but four of the originals—the Nicky Hopkins piano-led instrumental “Girl from Mill Valley,” out-of-tune “Spanish Boots,” and interchangeable-they’re-so-forgettable “Plynth (Water Down the Drain)” and “The Hangman’s Knee”—sound like rough drafts, polished jam sessions they happen to catch on tape the few days they were in the studio. It’s only the seven-minute and album-closing instrumental “Rice Pudding” that’s Zeppeliny enough to perk your ear, but it’s so like Zep you wonder whether Beck heard Page toodling around one day and lifted the riff. And it’s not like he or the band wind up doing anything too interesting with it, so what does it matter?
Before writing this review I tried to fish out my vinyl copy and couldn’t find it. When I figured I probably sold it a few years back with a few other records I’d guessed I probably wouldn’t need, I wondered why I would off an album by an artist I like even if it wasn’t the best. After popping in the CD I remembered. It is such a bad record. D