(All Album Reviews by Sean)
"Jeff Beck is the greatest rock guitarist ever!" A bold statement? Possibly, and certainly a subjective one. But it is a common cry for many of his fans. And they start from me and go all the way up to his peers. What makes this guy so special? Impeccable phrasing? The soul of a bluesman? Flawless intonation? An ability to adapt to his surroundings like a chameleon while never straying from his style? The urge to reinvent (for four plus decades!) the canvas on which to 'paint' his well defined, yet ever expaning style? The ability to go from ballsy and rough to delicate as a feather on the breeze at the drop of a hat? The answer is all of the above!! Jeff has it all and then some.
There must have been something in the water..... Beck was born and raised only a few miles from two other well known players Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, who along with Beck formed (in the hearts and minds of many listeners) the 'Holy Trinity' of British rock. Starting with each of their stints in the Brit blues outfit The Yardbirds. They each held the lead guitar spot in that band at one time or another. Clapton first, then Beck, then Beck AND Page briefly and finally Page alone. While all three cut their teeth on much of the same music and share much common ground, each has their own easily identifiable style. Of the three only Beck has continued to get better, decade by decade. Never content to rest on his laurels this guy. And as the listener follows Jeff's career it is incredibly apparent.
After leaving The Yardbirds Beck created a late 60's heavy rock/blues riff style that was very similar to the sound Led Zeppelin would soon make well known. When the fusion craze of the early 70's took hold, Beck decided that was the best 'canvas' to paint upon and regally made the transition. He bridged the gap that so many fusion bands could not. He created a more concise form of it, more refined and crammed with great meoldies- most of which were blues based and much easier on the average listener than the pungent modes and scales that much of straight fusion featured. Landmark albums like Blow By Blow and Wired are from this era and considered some of his very best work, if not THE best.
He countinued in this vein for another album at the dawn of the 80's, the often overlooked and underappreciated There and Back and then took a bad detour into pop with the Nile Rodgers produced Flash. A truly forgettable batch of songs with terrible mid 80's production. Luckily he rebounded at the dawn of the 90's with the great raw, rocking album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, which featured the amazing talents of Terry Bozzio on drums. That was the last offical album from Beck until 1999. In '99 he reemerged with yet another new musical backdrop- a bit of a shock to me at the time because the backdrop turned out to be..... TECHNO!!
At first I was not sure what to make of this. I am not much into techno or rave style music. Most lacks melody, it is more about a throbbing, primal pulse than linear lines or clever arrangements. BUT what if perchance those two elements were incorporated into the techno form??? Well the answer is here on Who Else!. The results were some of the freshest music I heard that year! Who Else! is an appealing cd that keeps the listener on their toes. You just don't know what is coming at you next with this one!
Searing solos await around the corners. Some of the most firey playing from Beck in recent years for sure. Greasy, deranged blues licks collide with house beats and skitter in and out of view like fireflys in the night sky. Try "Psycho Sam" or "Blast From The East" and see what I mean! Beck's untouchable microtonal tremolo bar and slide work ("Angel/Footsteps" is a great example- so light and beatiful it will take your breath away!) here is featured as well and it seems that he countinues to make huge leaps in that dept. Beck has stated it is partly inspired by the harmonies of Bulgarian womens choirs.
He uses exotic modes to create great melodies here like a true master chef creating a vast delight. Most players have only "salt and pepper" at their disposal. Beck has the WHOLE spice cabinet, if you will! Fans of his older style will be pleased too, the live cut "Brush With The Blues" is one of just a few organic/non techno inspired cuts on here. In "Brush" he plays with abandon and turns the blues upside down. You may not even realize it is a blues, the playing is so on the egde and daring.
What would a prog rock fan find to like in all of this? I think the answer lies in the wild juxtaposition of musical styles and the way the pieces have been arranged. They were no doubt sliced and diced on a PC via Pro Tools- but it is so cleverly done here and imaginative it is very forgiveable- even if you are a stickler about that kind of thing. Me, I am no purist, if it sounds good it is! And it does to me. Take a chance on this one and hear yet another phase of Jeff Beck's lifelong evolution and journey through music. Who Else! embraces the word progressive, not the genre. Enjoy.