Saw Lightning is billed by Beck’s record label as a glimpse into the future. Well, it is the first track from his upcoming new album Hyperspace, due out at some unspecified time later this year. But this invigorating tune is also a callback to Beck’s past. He sings, raps and chants over an intoxicating mix of hip-hop beats, acoustic and slide guitar, electronica, harmonica, samples and sundry other noises and innovative flashes. It has the magic combination of instant appeal and miriad eclectic layers. There’s plenty in there to keep it interesting over multiple listens.
Beck’s last LP was the critically lauded and multi award-winning Colors in 2017. Anyone who’s immersed themselves in that album will know that the critics and award committees had it right – it was a brilliant and uplifting piece of work and his best album since the nineties. It was also the most polished and resolutely ‘pop’ album Beck’s had ever released; filled with radio-friendly hooks, soulful melodies and all rough edges removed. Saw Lightning meanwhile is a little grittier and has the feel of a more traditional Beck track. He incorporates a variety of sounds and influences to come up with something that’s fresh and original while retaining the sense of positivity that made tracks like Up All Night, Dear Life and Dreams from Colors so joyous.
It’s got to help that Saw Lightning is a collaboration with Pharrel Williams, who co-wrote, co-produced and played on the track with Beck. Between the two of them that’s a prodigious amount of innovative musical talent to call on.
If Saw Lightning is a glimpse into the future, like Capitol Records suggest, it’s one to look forward to – more Jetsons than Bladerunner or A Clockwork Orange – at least as far as Hyperspace is concerned. You get the feeling that Beck could be doing this for a long time to come too.
Beck is around and about in the US doing his thing all summer. If you go and see him, you won’t regret it.