Beck: Morning Phase | Album Review
Singer / Songwriter
Frankly, Beck Hansen’s 12th album has been too long in arriving. But when you’re a post-modern funk/hip-hop/folk troubadour, such things take time.
Not that Beck hasn’t teased us unmercifully over the past year or two. When he wasn’t arranging David Bowie’s Sound and Vision for, no less, orchestra and choir, he was releasing complete covers of albums by Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen via his website. There was also Song Reader , a collection of Beck songs presented only as sheet music. Factor in, also, an unspecified accident that caused severe spinal discomfort and you have the passing of time fused with much (perhaps medically enforced) contemplation.
Which is good news for fans of Beck’s lauded Sea Change (2002), the record in his back catalogue that Morning Phase most resembles. Indeed, Beck reconvenes here the same backing band, and his father David Campbell once again scores mournful string arrangements.
It’s similar, then, but it’s also quite different. Beck has described the music here as Californian, but we know from the start that this is no Beach Boys sand/surf party. With some songs ironically referencing Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson’s classic (and quite desolate) singer-songwriter solo effort, Pacific Ocean Blue, Morning Phase takes on the tenor of an album created in the fug of bitterness, isolation, loneliness, distrust and general incapacitation.
Morning Phase is appropriately titled; all 13 songs live in or are located – temporally, at least – close to dawn. Waking Light is one dazzling example, a deep, emotive, piano-led tune that drifts for a while before coming to an end courtesy of a particularly deft (and almost deranged) guitar solo. “When the morning comes to meet you,” sings Beck on top of a slippery undercurrent of reverb, “rest your eyes in waking light.”
Though Beck is much loved (and rightly so) for his occasional slacker mix of early evening folk/rap, you could reasonably argue that his true default setting is nocturnal. Too bleak for some? Maybe, but in this instance Morning Phase is pure morning glory. beck.com
Download: Blackbird Chain, Country Down, Say Goodbye, Morning