After spending most of the '90s working on his classic cars and nursing a case of tinnitus, Jeff Beck resurfaced in 1999 with Who Else! Filled with electronic and techno influences, the album was a departure for the guitar hero, whose unique voice still poked through all the high-tech effects. Beck, now in one of his inspired periods, follows that up with You Had It Coming, a 35-minute assault that further explores the techno music found on Who Else! This time out, Beck roughens up the sound considerably, sometimes to the point of heading down an industrial path.
Beck sets the stage with "Earthquake," an intense explosion of hard rock. Distorted voices, Jennifer Batten's noisy repetitive riffs, and time-signature shifts collide to create an almost violent atmosphere, until Beck launches into a solo filled with speed riffs, his characteristic bends and a screaming sustained note that likely will wilt the begonias.
A repetitive, almost minimalist structure is used on most every song, including "Roy's Toy," which is mostly a distorted riff repeated over and over; the tune's redeeming grace is Beck's heady use of guitar effects. "Dirty Mind" takes forever to get anywhere and seems little more than a setup for the guitarist's statements. But when Beck does indeed solo, he throws everything at you, including unexpected turns that make perfect sense in retrospect.
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The two most inventive songs, "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "Nadia," fall outside the techno realm. His version of Muddy Waters's "Rollin'" combines everything from country blues to metallic sounds to roots rock to Native American-like percussion. Vocalist Imogen Heap sings in an orgasmic howl and chant, while Beck plays call-and-response brilliantly, adding flurries of notes after various passages; then when it's time to solo, Beck creates an almost obscene sound. Altogether, it's a mind-blowing experience. "Nadia," written by Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, is a completely different bag.
Beck makes his instrument sing in a most lyrical fashion, occasionally breaking out of the soft Indian backgrounds that engulf him. "Nadia" is classic Beck, wild and melodic at the same time.
While most of his contemporaries are either retired or rehashing material they recorded 30 years ago, Jeff Beck continues to explore new territory; he's as much a pioneer today as he was when he laid down the tracks for Truth. If only younger guitarists were as inspiring.
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