By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

  1. Brother (4:45)
    Available on Odelay and 3 other releases.
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), Piano, Vocals
    Rob Schnapf: Producer
    Tom Rothrock: Producer
Brother [Version (a)]:

Brother, are you heeding him?
The package I received is gone
Are you a phantom detective?
Can you read my soul backwards?
I will glide with you
If you are a backwards ghost
I will hire you

Brother, are you really whole?
Holy as a blessed worm
Paradise ambassador, bring me to your room
I will throw you rocks today
Watch them pass right through you
Say this is not a game, a test
We both have done some grieving

Brother with your vast reward
A treasury you can afford
Surgeries and innocence abounds
And I have read in paper books
My eyes are glands on twisted hooks
Never have I felt or looked
So sorry for you now

Brother, are you trained to spy?
One eye open, one eye dry?
When I die, will you be my neighbor?
Tell me things I'd like to know
Dressing up from head to toe
Let them know to and fro
From here and tomorrow

Brother, are you heeding him?
The message I've received is gone
I hear a phantom detective
Can you read my soul backwards?
I will glide with you
If you are a backwards ghost
I will hire you
The Song:

The beginning of 1995 was pretty low-key for Beck, though in January he appeared on KCRW and famously opened for Johnny Cash. Also that month, he popped into the studio with the guys from Bong Load (Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf) and recorded "Brother." His sessions with them were originally meant for a new album, but Beck changed directions and ended up doing most of his next album (Odelay) with the Dust Brothers. This turned his next album from a more somber lo-fi piece into something way more upbeat.

A few of these somber tracks have been released though: they include "Brother," "Ramshackle," and "Feather in Your Cap (Suburbia version)." "Brother" was held back a few years, until 1997, when it would finally be included on the "Jack-ass" single.

The minimal arrangement highlights Beck's work here. The song features only bass, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, and vocals (Beck is the only musician on it), and yet it sounds as full and as layered as anything on Odelay. Beck's wavering voice matches the piano and bass perfectly. It's hard to tell for certain how Beck recorded the song, but it sounds as if he played it on acoustic guitar first, then dropped the great piano and bass over that. His final touch was that quiet, searing electric guitar, which I must say is some of my favorite guitar playing of Beck's ever. (And I realize, much of this description matches "Broken Drum" on Guero, a very similar sort of track, 10 years on from this. They are clearly related.)

The general conceit about the song is that it is about a loss, a death of someone close to Beck (similar to "Broken Drum" again). True or not, the song reads pretty vague to me (or perhaps the opposite, quite specific/personal), but at the same time, Beck's direction of his sentiments to his "brother" really has a strong effect on the song. It makes a connection for the listener, as Beck is making a connection to the brother.

All the unanswered questions and images of phantoms, ghosts, and souls (and lines like "when I die / will you be my neighbor?") create a unique spiritual atmosphere, as well.

Played live 4 times:
Earliest known live version: October 21, 1994
Latest known live version: November 3, 1994

"Brother" was played live at least a few times. The recordings I've heard from October 21 and 24 1994 were quite similar, though much different from the record. Beck played it on guitar with harmonica, as a part of his acoustic sets. It was much more up-tempo, and not quite so melancholy. Beck sounded like he was rushing to get through it. Lyrically, it was similar to the studio recording, though without the last (fifth) verse.

It seems to have only been played during about a week in October 1994. Then it was recorded a few months later (January 1995) and was promptly forgotten. But Beck remembered it a couple of years later when he was putting together the "Jack-ass" single.