Sleeping Through Beck’s Morning Phase

I only own two Beck albums and truthfully, I think I only need one. I’ve tried to enjoy his latest, which I’m told is a spiritual partner to Sea Change, my favourite record of his, but it just doesn’t quite grasp me the same way: maybe because it’s not as self-conscious, maybe because he isn’t depressed. Maybe because I only need to hear Sea Change.

I have a weird aversion to Beck’s music. Sometimes – Mutations, Mellow Gold, The Information – it doesn’t do anything for me. Sometimes I find it catchy, but not compelling: I like the first song on Midnite Vultures, but I couldn’t name another song off it if I had to. The only one that’s clicked for me was Sea Change – and even then, I only bought it after hearing The Flaming Lips cover of The Golden Age.

I’ve never regretted buying Sea Change. It was front-heavy, laying it on a little thick with the first few songs: “We’re just holding on to nothing, to see how long nothing lasts,” he sings on Paper Tiger. On the next song, he insists he’s doing fine through tears. So forth and so on. But almost in spite of myself, I enjoyed it. Maybe enjoy is the wrong word: I endured it. It’s never an album I put on when I’m doing fine, but when I’m not, I keep finding myself three or four tracks into before I know what’s up.

So it goes here: it’s not a bad album, but it doesn’t really compel me to put it on. There’s a few songs on the record I like: vaguely Neil Young-ish Country Down; the echoey, mandolin-driven Blue Moon; the quiet, restrained strings and shouted vocals on Don’t Let It Go, but it didn’t grab me by the lapels, either. Between the spacious production, the steel guitars and the acoustic instruments, Morning Phase feels like a conscious attempt at recapturing something from the past, like when Gus Van Sant did a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho a while back.

And like Van Sant’s movie, if you’re trying to recreate the same thing, why shouldn’t I just stick with the original? I don’t listen to Sea Change very often, but it does the trick when I do. Same with Neil Young’s Harvest, another album this one owes a debt to. Morning Phase isn’t depressed it’s downright confident. When he sings lines like “I’m so tired of being alone,” you don’t feel like he’s been alone all that long. Or that he minds it. I suppose I don’t either: it’s no Sea Change, but it’s a lot better than the average Beck album, too.

Rating: 2.5/5. Like so much of Beck’s back catalog, this one’s a couple of great songs lost in a bunch of just okay ones, making an album that doesn’t do anything for me. A handful of songs here – see above – are keepers; I could take or leave the rest. At least he’s back to releasing music, not just releasing it in paper form.

EDIT: Glad to see Kanye and I agreed on this record




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