“Morning Phase” by Beck

Somewhere between Miles Davis and Napoleon Dynamite, we get Beck Hansen.  I was eleven years old the first time I had seen his first hit “Loser” on MTV and I didn’t really know what to make of it. Probably like the rest of the world, I thought it was weird, funny, a little creepy, and insanely catchy.  In fact the hook “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t ya kill me” to this day randomly pops up in my head and out of my mouth at any given moment of boredom (as well as classic lines like “Baby’s in Reno with the vitamin D, I gotta couple of couches; sleep on the love seat”) Despite looking like what would happen if Kurt Cobain stumbled on to the set of The Banana Splits Show, I think everyone knew that there was something so eccentric about this guy that he just might stick around.

And he did! He released another record a few years later that featured the same quirkiness but only with a much tighter sensibility. Not only releasing handful of late 90s-alt rock staples such as “Where It’s At” “Devil’s Haircut” and “New Pollution” but also earning a  Grammy or two along with a handful of other awards. Beck was here to stay. Sadly though his next few records and arguably his entire catalog, were hit or miss from there on out. Sure there were plenty of critically acclaimed records and by no means did he release a dud, but the eccentric appeal was all but gone. Did his creativity wear out it’s welcome? Perhaps we just got used to and it sucked the life out of his eccentricity?  Either way, his albums just didn’t feel exciting anymore. “Sea Of Change” was  his first big departure and featured a more stripped down, heartbroken singer-songwriter approach which was a nice plot twist, even if all but undone follow-up “Guero” that was more like a step back to his 1994-1997 days.

Fast forward to 2014 where we received a brand new record “Morning Phase”. The lengthy intro to this review is important to this album because his pop culture history is a vital part of what makes this album far much better than what the masses labeled it early on;  a sequel to his folk influenced record “Sea Of Change”. It’s true that there is plenty of correlation to be had between the two records being that it features an almost identical band line-up, including string production by Beck’s father himself, all the way down to the mournful singer-songwriter escapades that made the album the critical hit that it was.

To me, the record is more than that. Where “Sea Of Change” was based up the heart crushing blows of failed relationships, “Morning Phase” is more like a beacon of hope. Themes of heartache and pain are still present but no longer the narrative.  It’s almost like Beck is offering his commentary on the same events but with the resolution that he knows that it all works out in some strange yet, beautiful way. While it certainly bears a tonal resemblance to “Sea Of Change” it’s not an outright sequel. More like a distance cousin who happens to visit once every summer.

It’s hard to listen to a song like “Morning” and not look back at some of your very own romantic hardships and laugh. What seemed to be one of the most hurtful things in your life while it was going on, means absolutely nothing now that you overcame it and grew up. “Can we start it all over again?” Beck whispers with a wink like we all know that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” because it’s what we do; get up, get better, and reflect on our past with nostalgic melancholy or we put it so far behind us that we forget about it all together.

Speaking of nostalgia, there is never at any point on this record that Beck goes back to his hipster-makes-hits troupes just for the sake of a cash grab. This album’s wistful, California sun across the hills and into your kitchen window during breakfast,  attitude plays from start to finish as if it’s one song with one vibe. With that said, he never apologizes for it either. Just as it separates itself from his earlier songs like “Devil’s Haircut”, it celebrates the likes of “Jackass”. Long story short: This is still Beck, but a matured, life savvy Beck that we really haven’t seen before.

Throughout this album’s lyrical themes of reflection, redemption, and resolution as emotionally heavy as that could sound, sound wise it never gets louder than a light strum on acoustic guitar. There’s plenty bass guitar, string arrangements, piano sparkles and banjo licks behind layered vocal harmonies to keep it from sounding one-note but for all intents and purposes, it IS in fact one-note. Not too many radio friendly hits to be found aside from the cheery lead in single “Blue Moon” or the follow up “Heart Is A Drum” but it is a beautiful note none the less.

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Aaron The Audiophile

Son, brother, uncle, musician. I enjoy music of all genres, shapes and sizes, preferably the good kind.

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