I have to admit that Beck did not make an overly positive first impression on me. While I recognized "Loser" as a catchy song and something of a zeitgeist moment, I wrote him off as one-hit wonder. When the know-it-all music buyer I worked with at Kim's Video made a comment along the lines of "this guy should mail 50% of his royalties to Lou Barlow," I didn't disagree with him.
In my mind, Lou Barlow was the real deal, the tortoise to Beck's hare. Ironically, it was Barlow who attained one-hit wonder status with his appropriation of Beck's slick fusion of indie-rock and hip-hop on The Folk Implosion's 1995 hit "Natural One." Beck meanwhile went on to become, well, Beck. I haven't purchased a Lou Barlow-related album in nearly 15 years, while I now count Beck among my favorite recording artists. Shows what I know.
But listening back on some of Beck's early material, I can understand why I was initially underwhelmed. Mellow Gold is a very good album, better than I thought at the time. But Beck's small label releases--the ones that were supposed to establish his indie cred--didn't do much for me at the time. Beck got much better at more conventional songcraft on later albums like Mutations and Sea Change than he was on early ones like One Foot In The Grave and Stereopathic Soulmanure. I can certainly hear hints on these albums of the talent that I would only fully recognize later, but I can also hear why they didn't sound particularly fresh or original to me at the time.
"Sleeping Bag" is one of the better tracks from the now out-of-print One Foot In The Grave, while "The World May Loose Its Motion" remains one of the rarer early Beck tracks, having only been released on the compilation Periscope: Another Yoyo Compilation. In 1994 I thought these tracks sounded like bandwagonesque lo-fi indie rock, but today I hear them as solid songs from an emerging talent. And unlike many lo-fi indie-rockers, Beck's songs actually benefited from the meticulous production eventually provided by producers like Nigel Godrich.