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Jeff Beck

You Had It Coming

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By Holly Crenshaw  
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Any fan of guitar legend Jeff Beck would have been surprised, even shocked, by rumors of Beck going "techno." Yet when the sound first caught the rock icon's ear in London dance clubs in the late '90s, in the percussive thrust of Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, he soon began plotting his own variation on a techno theme. Perhaps remarkably, the result became 1999's Grammy-nominated Who Else.  

What Beck found fascinating about the London club scene was the so-called "bottom line" -- the rhythmic force that underpinned the music and often compensated for trite lyrics and otherwise unremarkable mixes.  Indeed, Beck, who normally took long breaks between recordings during his prolific career, was so drawn to the drum-driven techno sound that he returned to the studio to experiment further with its fundamental rhythmic structure. The impressive result can be heard on You Had It Coming, a brash and still unlikely fusion of guitar wizardry and contemporary beats. Anyone looking for proof that Jeff Beck, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer with the Yardbirds and an immensely successful solo artist, is open to new musical ideas will unquestionably find it here. 

Beck’s studio work for this album was mostly a solo affair -- or at least it was once producer Andy Wright decided that the sounds of Beck improvising over sampled loops assembled by programmer Aiden Love offered more than enough creative possibilities.  Despite this insular approach to recording and the obvious techno influence, the music on You Had It Coming doesn’t sound premeditated, canned, or phony.  On the contrary, Beck often sounds as if he’s responding to the loops in spontaneous bursts of drama ("Earthquake") and lyricism ("Nadia").  And despite the reliance on electronics, several tracks reveal Beck’s roots in blues and rock without apology or interference.  The lone vocal track, in fact, finds Beck and British singer Imogen Heap passionately reprising the Muddy Waters hit, "Rollin’ and Tumblin." 

There’s also something old-fashioned about the way Beck employs the basics on these sessions, such as his trademark Stratocaster and Marshall amps, that prevents his brief romance with techno from ever sounding impersonal or insincere.

Holly Crenshaw, a long-time staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes frequently about music and the arts.