Beck ‘Morning Phase’ – Review

20 Mar

There are two type of people on this planet; Beck people and everyone else. There are two type of Beck people; ‘Odelay’ people and ‘Sea Change’ people. If you’re an ‘Odelay’ person, you’re probably quirky and good fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re a ‘See Change’ person you’re likely to be moody and introverted and take yourself very seriously. I’ve yet to meet a Beck person who loves both sides equally (though I’m sure they exist), which is kind of a rare divide for a major artist to have. Both albums are classics, and both play to his different strengths, though it’s the Odelay vein he’s been tapping into for most of his career.

I’ve never really been much of an ‘Odelay’ person myself, and I’ve never really spent much time with his other albums, but I have to admit a real soft spot for ‘Sea Change’ – or at least the first half of it, which is all I can stomach before I get an overwhelming urge to top myself. ‘Sea Change’ could quite possibly be the saddest album ever made; an album influenced by sadness that sounds sad and reflects sadness and presents sadness as a gift to the listener and spreads it like an illness. ‘Sea Change’ is a powerful drug, which is why Beck rarely touches it in a live setting, and which is why I was surprised when I heard about ‘Morning Phase.’

‘Morning Phase’ is essentially a sequel to ‘Sea Change’ in that it sounds A LOT like that album; it explores the same themes, and it features the same musicians. But despite these things it’s nowhere near as depressing as its prequel. In fact, it’s got an almost uplifting, cathartic, Zen like feel.

It’s filled with Beck’s calm wisdom – things like, ‘woke up this morning, found a love light in the storm’ and ‘only what you feel keeps you turning, when you’re standing still’. Vague stabs at poetry that don’t really connect unless you try really, really hard to make them connect. ‘Sea Change’ played with this dream like lyricism as well, but its sadness was based in more concrete images. Who could forget ‘these days I barely get by/ I don’t even try’ or ‘It’s only tears that I’m crying / it’s only you that I’m losing, guess I’m doing fine.’ It isn’t really clear what the pain on ‘Morning Phase is rooted in, or if you can even call it pain. This is possibly a weakness of the record, but it’s hard to call it a weakness when the lines are sung so beautifully and in such a distinctively ‘Beck’ way.

Beck treats the music with the same casual serenity that he treats the lyrics. It’s a gorgeous sounding album. The string arrangements, arranged by his Dad no less, sound absolutely superb, and never feel overbearing or corny. The songs are deftly produced by Beck himself, who does a perfect job of recreating the sound Nigel Goodrich captured on ‘Sea Change’ 14 years ago. His biggest success is that he manages to make ‘Morning Phase’ sound much grander and more sweeping than ‘Sea Change’ whilst also making it sound more intimate and simple. The closeness of the slide guitar the lazy drum patterns counteract the  massive string sound, to produce an album that plays with the signifiers of country music, and has the same homeliness, but sounds bigger.

In many ways, ‘Morning Phase’ is a little too reminiscent of its forbearer – certainly melodically (‘Morning’ Could easily pass for ‘Gues I’m Doing Fine’ for example). It is however a different experience to ‘Sea Change’, one that is less weighty and emotive, but one that Is even more beautiful to behold on a surface level. You often hear about music ‘washing over’ you, and I can’t think of a better way to describe ‘Morning Phase’. By making a more accessible version of ‘Sea Change’, Beck’s biggest achievement here is that he allows you to reconsider your opinion of that album, undeniably the classic of the pair. You come to realise through ‘Morning Phase’ that ‘Sea Change’ has a legacy as more than the saddest album ever made; Beck created an album with such a unique and interesting sound, that even a relatively lightweight and vague imitation like ‘Morning Phase’ still sounds different to and above most of the singer-songwriter mush released in 2014.


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