ALBUM REVIEW : ***; BECK; "Mellow Gold"; DGC

If you put a thousand monkeys in a room with a tape recorder and locked them up for a thousand years, you might end up with an album like this one, a sputtering-synapse stream of consciousness punctuated by cowboy chords on an untuned folk guitar.

At a time when the Nintendo generation demands real aimlessness from its heroes--as gangsta-rap fans demand real-life hardness --Beck is the goods. Every so often--especially in the hip-hop flavored songs produced by Karl Stephenson--Beck seems to stumble onto a moment of great beauty, and you can almost visualize him rubbing his sleepy eyes in wonder at the cool thing he has done. And though "Loser" hit the pop moment square on the bunghole--it is truly an astonishing song--the rest of "Mellow Gold" seems dedicated to proving "Loser" was sort of a random occurrence.

Which is to say, whether or not the ingenue thing is an act (one suspects it isn't), Beck is closer to Beefheart than he is to the Beatles, a guy as impressed with the weirdness of first-generation Delta blues as he is with its power. Maybe the rest of the world was expecting "Mellow Gold" to be the "Rubber Soul" of L.A. coffeehouse dudes, but Beck seems to have put out a "Trout Mask Replica" instead.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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