With his portastudio, keyboard, drum machine, and guitar, singer/songwriter Beck (b. Beck Hansen) created music that celebrated the junk culture of the ’90s. Beck’s music drew from hip-hop, folk, experimental rock, psychedelia, pop, and rock & roll, recycling everything into a colorful, messy and willfully diverse brand of post-modern rock, filled with warped, satiric imagery and clumsy poetry. With all of his rootless eclecticism, Beck is distinctly a product of the ’90s; all of his influences were processed through television and records, not real-life experiences. But that trashy, disposable quality is what makes his music unique.
Beck came to national attention in early 1994, when his folky hip-hop single “Loser” began to receive airplay on alternative rock stations across America. “Loser” was originally released independently on a Californian label in late 1993. The single became a club hit and quickly spread to underground and alternative radio stations. Beck became the center of a major-label bidding war; he eventually signed with DGC Records. Beck released his debut album, Mellow Gold, in early 1994. Mellow Gold received rave reviews and became a gold record as “Loser” climbed into the Top Ten. Beck’s contract with DGC allowed him to release records that he and the company deem as uncommercial on indie labels. Consequently, the singer/songwriter released two new records by the summer of 1994, which were both recorded roughly around the same time as Mellow Gold. Stereopathetic Soul Manure was a noisy, more experimental album than his debut and was released on Flipside Records. One Foot in the Grave accentuated his folk roots and was released on K Records. Neither album sold on the level of Mellow Gold, but they sold respectably.
As he prepared his second album for DGC, Beck toured with Lollapalooza Five in the summer of 1995. Beck’s second major-label album, Odelay, finally appeared in the summer of 1996; it was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Throughout 1996, word-of-mouth began to spread on Odelay, and earned Album of the Year status from most major critic’s polls and, even more surprisingly, it received several Grammy Nominations, including Album of the Year. Originally slated for release on indie label Bong Load, Mutations instead became Odelay’s “unofficial” follow-up when it was released on DGC in the autumn of 1998.