When Jeff Beck Dabbled in Electronica on ‘Who Else!’
In March 1999, guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck dropped his first album of new material in more than a decade, the electronica-flavored Who Else!
Coming after Beck’s 1993 Gene Vincent tribute record Crazy Legs and 1989’s Grammy-winning Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, the guitarist latest work turned the heads of fans and industry insiders alike.
Most of the songs on Who Else! were written by Beck’s longtime collaborator and keyboardist Tony Hymas, with the guitarist himself only chalking up writing credits for three of the album’s 11 songs. At the time of its release, Beck spoke of his collaboration with Hymas as well as the impact of writing with a keyboard player.
“He’s amazing," he said. "I tell you, if this album does anything, I shall be so pleased I stuck with loyalty to his writing, because I’ve always thought that keyboard players, especially with extreme talent, have got to be the place to look for material. Anything less than that, it’s sort of like going to Woolworths rather than going to Harrods!”
Reviews for the record were mixed. Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fricke stated that, “Who Else! is a feast of tone color and riff musculature: the tingle of the tart, down-slope fretboard runs in 'Brush With the Blues;' the wasp-horde buzz and hang-gliding feedback of 'What Mama Said;' the tumbling, Arabic country-blues licks in 'Psycho Sam.' Beck is no longer a mere guitar hero; he has become a consummate sound.” Meanwhile, Robert Christgau, the self-professed "Dean of American Rock Critics," wasted no words at all on Beck’s work and supplanted a formal review with his patented bomb icon, signifying a dud.
Who Else! was a modest success, managing to climb its way up to No. 99 on the Billboard 200. This record signaled a real departure for Beck into the world of electronic music, a genre he would explore and tap into for the next four years across his next two records You Had it Coming in 2001 and Jeff in 2003. Stacked against many of the other releases across Beck’s extensive solo career, Who Else! isn’t held in the highest regard. Even in juxtaposition with his later electronica work, one can almost feel the reticence on the guitarist part to fully embrace what he was getting himself into.
Jeff Beck has never been one to back away from trying new things, or from tinkering with new sounds. If anything else, Who Else! should be taken and appreciated for what it is, a documentation of one of rock’s most adventurous artist’s looking to broaden his horizons and expand his sonic template. That being said, the guitar work will absolutely blow your mind.