THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014 |
Posted by: Samantha Tacon
Beck has always been a bit of a troll. His impressive ability to beat down boundaries and seemingly make any genre of music his bitch has often been minimized by his detached approach and ironic persona. Songs like "Loser" and "Debra" challenged our conceptions of culture by turning them on their heads and exposing their existence in a fashion Andy Warhol would be jealous of. Beck could make us laugh, wonder and bob our heads all at the same time.
The tide turned with 2002's Sea Change, an introspective look into Beck's emotional ruin post-Leigh Limon that served as our first real glimpse into Beck Hansen, the person. It was a departure for Beck, someone who had largely cemented his career in music that was fun and cheeky, but in no way cheap or particularly personal. With the musical mastery and lyrical candor of Sea Change, we listened as our favorite 90s loser transformed into a poignant singer-songwriter capable of crafting an entire album based in naked pain and self-reflection.
Though Morning Phase is considered a "companion piece of sorts" to Sea Change, it also serves as a happy medium between the two extremes of Beck's chameleon character: the troll and the broken. He borrows from 70s era California folk-rockers in a way that while noticeable, isn't parody. His emotive lyrics aren't completely straightforward, but are comfortably distant. Beck has grown as an artist in the six years he's taken between recording proper studio albums, and it's evident throughout Morning Phase—his best record yet.
The opening track "Cycle" features string arrangements composed by Beck's father David Campbell, and offers listeners one last breath before drowning them in dreams of loss, loneliness and ultimately light. Lush sonic landscapes serve as a tonal backdrop while Beck delicately pleads through beautifully bleeding melodies: "Won't you show me the way it used to be?" ("Morning"); "Don't leave me on my own" ("Blue Moon"); "You don't have to let it go" ("Don't Let It Go"); and "I'll never refuse you" ("Blackbird Chain").
"Wave," the album's metamorphic centerpiece, focuses on survival, the challenges of letting go and the overwhelming consequences of change. It swells in slow motion and alternates between feelings of submission and freedom. While the latter may imply independence, it also involves "i-sol-a-tion." It isn't until the album's closer "Waking Light" that Beck definitively offers a few glimmers of hope. "Raise yourself to the morning alone," he tells us. "Night is gone."
In today's commercial music climate of relentless shock and awe, Morning Phase stands out. It is sonically and thematically complete without being over-produced or indulgent. Through Morning Phase, we are reminded of the brilliance singer-songwriters like Beck possess in capturing universal feelings of longing and loss, and the power they wield in helping us heal. We may never know which Beck we're going to get on any given record, or what exactly he's trying to say at all times—and maybe he doesn't want us to. But so long as he keeps dropping albums like Morning Phase, I'm happy to keep guessing.
Must listens: "Blue Moon," "Blackbird Chain," "Country Down"
Morning Phase is out now via Capitol Records.