Bob Dylan was famously booed for going electric three decades ago, but Beck Hansen—the 28-year-old wunderkind whose wordplay and musical wit have earned him comparisons to the rock laureate—isn't likely to be Bronx-cheered by rock purists for going acoustic now. Actually, on Beck's new CD, his first since 1996's widely acclaimed Odelay, guitars and keyboards are plugged-in on some tracks. And in the hands of Beck and his inventive sidemen (including Odelay's drummer Joey Waronker and multi-instrumentalist Smokey Hormel), acoustic instruments (harmonica, piano, upright bass, cello, trombone, even a glockenspiel) give off sparks. Even so, Mutations is a delightful step backward in Beck's career, harkening to his pre-Odelay days and his first lo-fi indie album, 1993's Golden Feelings. As always, Beck displays his talent for unexpected lyrics ("Treated you like a rusty blade," he sings, "A throwaway from an open grave") and genre-leaping composition: The final track, "Static," begins as a slow, tambourine-borne blues and ends in thrash-metal cacophony.
Bottom Line: Biding his time between epics, Beck delivers a fine, fun pop poem