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In 1994, it was hard to go to a college bar, a fraternity house party, or turn on the radio without eventually hearing “Loser” played over and over and over again, even to the point of frustration and sheer annoyance.  The mark of brilliant songwriting, however, is not always if it’s memorable the first time hearing it; sometimes, a great song can be a slow but hostile takeover, where it inevitably works its way into sub-conscious.  Beck’s “Loser” certainly did this to me for a variety of reasons.

Beck’s music is distinct, featuring a stong beat, and alternating acoustic and electric guitars.  At points, the electric guitar veers off into psychedelic territory, but instead of indulging himself there, Beck grounds it.   The guitars shift back to the dominant, rhythmic acoustic guitar, which, along with the beat, serve’s as the song’s primary hook.   The result can be hypnotic.  However, musicianship alone doesn’t make this song great.   Beck’s lyrics are often as strange, wonderful, and unconvential as his guitars:

In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey / Butane in my veins and I’m out to cut the junkie / With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables / Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose

Surreal would be an apt discription.  To some, that this might look like meandering word salad, but Beck’s playfulness with language can be addictive.  I had realized this ten years after the song was released, when I found myself in a shopping mall, absently reciting “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey” and “my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite / who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” It’s the sort of disjointed style of imagery William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch employed.  True, the song drones, “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me,” which makes the song sound like an anthem for slackers.  Yet, while listening, I almost seemingly doesn’t care about “message,” because the linguistic acrobatics becomes intoxicating.