Beck’s latest ‘phase’
Storied songwriter returns to landmark sound on latest record
Beck is labeled one of his generation’s most progressive and most idiosyncratic artists. The multifaceted and disparate sounds in all 12 of his albums — from the funk-inspired “Mutations” to the experimental rock and alternative hip-hop elements in “Odelay” — are testaments to his musical restlessness.
Beck’s 20-year career hit its high water mark with 2002’s incredible “Sea Change.” A stark deviation from Beck’s signature quirks and experimentalism, its poignant, heartbroken lyrics intertwined with simple acoustic arrangements still resonate. The haunting orchestral arrangements of song “Lonesome Tears” comprise one of Beck’s finest musical moments, throbbing of deep heartbreak and anguish.
Beck is labeled one of his generation’s most progressive and idiosyncratic artists. The multifaceted and disparate sounds in all 12 of his albums — from the funk-inspired “Mutations” to the experimental rock and alternative hip-hop elements in “Odelay” — are testaments to his musical restlessness.
Consequently, many approach “Morning Phase,” Beck’s 12th studio album and the artist’s self-proclaimed dubbed followup to “Sea Change,” with a certain skepticism. Featuring several of the same musicians from the previous LP, including orchestral arrangements by Beck’s own father, David Campbell, we ask: will it deliver the same impact?
“Morning Phase” ultimately stands alone on its own merit, with vast potential to become one of Beck’s finest albums. Its rich, polished sound is as deeply immersive as its companion piece, while subtly contrasting the beautifully uncomfortable sadness of “Sea Change.” As if emerging from the darkness of its predecessor, “Morning Phase” feels like an awakening. Appropriately, Beck croons on the aptly titled “Morning,” “Can we start it all over again / this morning?”
The slightly melancholic tone of “Morning Phase” is oddly tender and sensual. It is easy to forget, despite his notable and acclaimed eccentricity, Beck is a philosophical folk musician at heart. This fundamental part of his musical self has subtly reared its head in the past 10 years — shown especially with the psychedelic paranoia of “Modern Guilt,” an underrated showcase of crisp alternative rock. These west-coast folk tendencies which return on his latest release render a sense of brightness. In “Blue Moon,” for example, Beck sings, “I’m so tired of being alone” — incongruously coupled with guitar twangs marked by glimmers of hope.
Beck is especially patient throughout this album, contributing to its slow yet consistent pace, allowing listeners to be completely captivated by its lustful melodies and expressive singing. This passivity is best shown through the subtle introduction of drums in “Don’t Let It Go” — a smooth emergence from emotional drowning highlighted in earlier track, “Wave.”
Like “Sea Change,” which emerged from the breakup of his nine-year relationship with his fianceé, Beck faced numerous personal issues in the six-and-a-half year hiatus since 2008’s “Modern Guilt,” particularly a back injury, which left Beck unable to perform for several years.
Now a 43-year-old father of two, the breezy sounds and downtempo arrangements throughout “Morning Phase” convey a sense of optimism. The album’s languid pace shows Beck’s self-awareness as a musician — one that is vulnerable, but promotes the powerfully gratifying passage through life. Beck sums his identity up best in concluding track “Waking Light”: “When the morning comes to meet you / rest your eyes with waking light.”