“The New Pollution” – Beck (Words/music: Beck Hansen, John King, and Michael Simpson, available on Odelay, DGC 1996)
“The New Pollution” isn’t the oddest song on Odelay, as there are moments where Beck and the Dust Brothers go further off the deep end. In fact, relatively speaking at least, “The New Pollution” passes for a straightforward song on this album. Buoyed by a guitar riff fit for a spy movie, a saxophone and vintage organ trade off solos. Beck stays low in his vocal range, making it not quite as soulful as he’d sound on Midnight Vultures, but certainly nudging the track toward “crooning,” at least by his standards.
Of course, “by Beck’s standards” is the key phrase here, as “The New Pollution” certainly has its weird bends. Beck’s narrative seems straightforward, focusing on a modern woman “alone in the ‘new pollution’,” but it’s his choice of images that feels odd. Specifically, it’s the way that Beck juxtaposes – “lily white cavity crazes” and “paradise camouflage” among others – that undercuts both the beauty and ugliness of these images. Then there are the odd lines – “carburetor tied to the moon” immediately stands out – that I won’t even begin to parse. Even the music has this oddly warped quality to it – whether it’s the drum beat that sounds similar to the “Tomorrow Never Knows” beat suggesting a mind-expanding quality or just the eerily gleeful opening complete with sound effects. Whatever it is, Beck subverts the relatively straightforward groove by melting some of the edges and letting them drip onto itself.