Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4 plus minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Outkast's "Dracula's Wedding," Elvis Costello's "Little Triggers" and the Hives "Tick Tick Boom."
It was almost "Nightmare Hippy Girl." As I listen to Mellow Gold for the first time in possibly years, my memories wash over me like the flat Pepsi I would drink after basketball practice, and I forgot just how similar the song structure of these two songs is. In fact, most of Mellow's tracks work in a similar fashion I would call "Crazy List Songs." It seems like Beck had a ton of ideas that didn't make sense until he put them into songs and then they somehow made 100% complete sense. "Nightmare" has that beautiful outro over the endless list, but that's the first place where the edge is lost to "Truckdrivin' Neighbors Downstairs." As wonderful as it is, "Nightmare" feels less like it's about a real person and more about the idea of a person, while "Neighbors" feels written about two or three people who lived on the ground floor of a three flat for years, playing ZZ Top to all hours of the night as a blurry eyed Beck Hanson scratched away his anger into a notepad mumbling "Some day... some day, you bastards."
That miracle of irritation is captured in every scratchy second of "Neighbors." It even sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom, with that tell tale recording hiss behind the guitar lick, and I would not be surprised to find out if it was done as a one-off. For a dude known for his weirdness, this song remains one of the easiest Beck songs to comprehend. It feels exactly like it is: angry, funny and quick.
For years now, the best comedy has not come from comedy (if you follow me). Comedians delivering comedy has too often felt to obvious and easy. Not that the jokes are necessarily all easy ones (though many certainly have been), but the fact that they're comedians makes the delivery of humor predictable and somehow less satisfying. However getting humor, legitimately funny bits, from music is exciting and unexpected...unless it comes to be expected of the music, and then you get Barenaked Ladies, a group billed as a "funny" serious band, which means they're jokes might as well be highlighted with "APPLAUSE" signs. You cannot surprise someone if they know to expect the surprise. Beck's humor is more like that of the movie Hot Fuzz, where it's not so much a joke of spot the references. The joke is more about the process. With "Debra," sure the lyrics have some funny parts to it, but what makes the song hilarious is that it's a better Prince song than even Prince has recorded for 20 years!
"Truckdrivin'" should earn some sort of medal for not only capturing and including the fight preceding the "actual" song, but for introducing the phrase "You lousy puke!" into my vocabulary. Yet I hate that I felt obligated to write "actual." It's the intro and it's just as if not more important than the "actualness" which follows. In fact, the more I listen to it, my inclination to want to skip past it (an act I am guilty of more than once) is a sin against the song. The inclusion of that caught audio sets up the truth of the punch line to come. When we finally get that chorus, we hear Beck articulating what we already knew to be true.
And it may sound like hackie crap writing 15 years after the fact, but not enough can be said for Beck's lyric abilities. "Shit-kickin', speed-takin', truck-drivin' neighbors downstairs" represents one of those choruses that latches so tightly onto your brain that you find yourself singing it out lout at inappropriate places. More power to it.