Few have dared to fashion a fraction of Beck’s guises over the last two decades, and even fewer have pulled it off with the diversity and panache of LA’s most chameleonic son.
Often we see 20 years as a hallmark of endurance, wondering how many tours, comebacks and half-baked albums it takes to call it a day. But when you’ve done the loser, the lo-fi slacker, the snake-hipped güero, the heartbroken songwriter and, more recently, the leftfield producer, you’ve earned the right to play out your full musical Rorschach repertoire.
But after dabbling with the release of the unconventional ‘Song Reader’ (live review), this time there’s no fresh reinvention or abstract interpretations. ‘Morning Phase’ is a return to the lovelorn introspection of 2002’s ‘Sea Change’ – in style, if not substance.
Characterised by the abrupt end to his relationship, that was Beck’s break-up album, his most intimate and honest musical moment to date. It also marked an abrupt deviation from what preceded it - the playful innuendo and goofy pastiche of 1999’s ‘Midnite Vultures’ - as opposed to an experimental sheet music release.
It’s an interesting parallel that continues with the return of the musicians that helped Beck define his ‘Sea Change’ era, and you can hear the influence of Smokey Hormel, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Joey Waronker in the craft and languid pacing that lend ‘Morning Phase’ its slight, melancholic tone. Self-described as “California music”, the influence of The Byrds, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills and Nash permeate throughout, and there’s an awful lot to love.
‘Morning’ is a delicate triumph with its clean, simple melodies and reaching vocal, and ‘Heart Is A Drum’ possesses gentle harmonies and soft, layered vocals that’ll strike a chord with fans of The Shins. Although tracks like ‘Turn Away’ and ‘Wave’ pour the strings on thickly, meeting the theme of emerging from dark, soul-searching nights, the easy-going ‘Blackbird Chain’ and ‘Blue Moon’ (audio below) ensure this never feels like an album exclusively plumbing the depths of introspection.
Beck might argue he’s done that already, but as he sings, “These are the words we use to say goodbye,” perhaps this album is less about the comeback, more about closure.
Words: Reef Younis
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