Thursday, April 10, 2014

Beck: Morning Phase

Beck brings it on with an album 
that leaves Pop/Rock/Alternative in its wake

     I was a fan of Beck from the first time I heard “Loser,” though to paraphrase Entertainment Weekly, part of the reason I liked it was because I knew Kathie Lee Gifford would never cover it.  Odelay (1996) and Midnite Vultures (1999) were a lot of fun since they took on Hip-hop and Disco, respectively, but Sea Change (2002) sounded sort of drab
and unlike anything he’d done before when I first heard it.  When I replayed it, I thought it was one of the great heartbreak albums.  Beck kept on going and I followed, but The Information (2006) took on inventiveness for its own sake and it felt gimmicky.  Beck took a break for about five years and then returned.

     Morning Phase places Beck back in the forefront of contemporary music.   Since the inception of iTunes, we’ve been listening to a singles music scene, but Beck has produced an album that’s practically an update of a concerto.  Though there are thirteen tracks, it’s feels all of one piece.  The introductory track segues into the second and it
immediately recalls Sea Change.  The seventh and the final tracks return to the musical themes of the beginning so there is a sense of specific movements within a cycle.  Plus, the main instrument is Beck’s voice and there’s a small band – almost a chamber orchestra – so there we go.

     I’m making this comparison because other reviewers have made all types of comparisons.  A WNKU DJ thought it sounded like Pink Floyd, which was somewhat apt.  However, Beck doesn’t over-sing or go all Freudian about his childhood or feel terribly guilty about someone close losing his mind, not that I’m trying to be reductive about Pink Floyd.  Rolling Stone thought it was like folk-rock and it does have that ‘70s vibe as do both Dawes and Vampire Weekend, or any other serious contemporary pop artist, whether rock, country, or soul.  However, Beck doesn’t seem interested in a hit pop song because it’s about the entire album.  This feels more like the artistic product of Jackson Browne paired with Phillip Glass.

Beck's Myriad Mix of Genres
     It’s an aurally gorgeous work that reminded me of Debussy’s “La Mer.”  Yes, I know this sounds pretentious (like Pink Floyd, perhaps) and I’m digging myself into a hole, but Beck moves forward contemporary music by going really Old School.  In this case, that means late nineteenth century Romantic or seventeenth century Baroque.  Morning Phase focuses on renewal and re-evaluating the present.  If Sea Change was Beck’s getting over a long-term relationship’s break-up, then Morning Phase may be his coming to terms with middle age.  It’s a classic.

1 comment:

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