This blues song shows off Beck's obsession with the finger-picking style of the blues. With "Crystal Clear," Beck finally wrote his own Mississippi Delta song.
The opening lines of "Crystal Clear" are a classic, famous Beck couplet. He simply and effectively sums up the struggle:: "Plastic donut, can of spam / There's no kindness in this land."
"Better not let my good gal catch you here" is straight from Mississippi John Hurt, from whose records Beck learned the blues. In his "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor," Hurt sings a verse:
Don't you let my good girl catch you here
Please don't let my good girl catch you here
Or she might shoot you, might cut and stab you too
No tellin' what she might do
In Hurt's song, the line is sung to his mistress as a warning. Beck uses it more to describe his surroundings, but does also seem to be warning someone about how tough his good gal is ('she'll cut you down').
Further blues absorption happens with "clean my gravestone when I'm gone," a reworking of the old blues adage "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Beck takes all these older sentiments, twists in his own sense of humor ("Hitch my horse up to the town / I got my toenails painted brown") and history, and the result is a terrific, modern blues.
As with many of his songs back in the early '90s, Beck's describes his surroundings, in order to cut to the core of his emotions. "Crystal Clear" does that as well as any.
Beck played this on 120 Minutes in February 1994. It's a nice relaxing performance. Over the familiar acoustic picking Beck sings:
Plastic donut, can of spam
There's no kindness in this land
Better not let your good gal catch you here
She's gettin' all juiced up with a bottle of plain wrap beer
Hitch my horse up to the town
I got my toenails painted brown
And you better not let my good gal catch you here
She's gettin' all juiced up with a bottle of... crystal clear... new age beer
Festival, fast cut, fast paced haircut police
Uptight, scraping off the attitude off the floor
Burn it up and load it up into the smokestack
'Cause it makes you want to smoke crack
He sort of half-sings the last line, like how he used to do "Bogusflow." The last verse then is just way too short. :-) "Scraping off the attitude" is a common Beck phrase from back then. It's really cool to finally hear a live version of this song!
"Just a muscle in a bag"? "Just a mussel in a bag"? Not sure. Either way, it's one of the more cryptic lines Beck has ever written. One suggestion I've received is that it might refer to a condom. Beck's not usually so explicit (pre-Vultures, of course), but the blues is often explicit, and this is definitely a blues song.
This song was originally referred to as "Plain Wrap" on a few promo compilations (as Stereopathetic Soulmanure was also about to be called Telepathic Astro Manure).