Beck – “Morning Phase”

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Sometimes I feel like the only person who thought that Sea Change didn’t live up to the massive hype that 2002 dumped on it.  At first I thought it was because I was in my second year of university and newly, deeply in love; a melancholy album of musings on broken love and divorce was not on the top of my priority change at the time.  As time goes on I still haven’t gone through that range of feelings, which might explain why I still don’t like the album as much as, say, any other Beck album.  I tend to prefer Mr. Beck Hansen when he’s balancing the broody musing with the funk, which is why I think the trio of Guero, The Information, and Modern Guilt are much, much better than certain other Hipster Bible’s tend to.  I should probably dislike Morning Phase then, since it’s been hyped as the second coming of Sea Change – but I don’t.  I don’t adore it, but I do think that it’s a much stronger album than its predecessor precisely because it refuses to wallow in the mire of depression.

Beck has always been a folk singer at heart, as the Futurama episode intimates, although he’s always covered it up a bit with his penchant for grooves.  Morning Phase strips those grooves away entirely and leaves us with expansive, static arrangements that seem drenched in, well, “Waking Light”.  There is a tidal wave of string arrangements throughout the album, along with gently plucked guitars and Beck’s rather admirable voice.  Here and there the drums pick up, and when they do (like on “Say Goodbye”) the effect is as galvanizing as a wall of gain-fuelled guitars or a breakbeat might once have been.  The best moments though, oddly enough, are the moments where everything seems to stretch out into the infinite and hang like it will never end – the entirety of “Wave”, basically, or much of the sublime closing track “Waking Light”.  The last half of the album, though, tends to muddle together into one loose conglomerate and it’s not until “Country Down” kicks it up a slight notch that you realize that you didn’t just listen to one ten-minute track.

If Sea Change was a sticky glob of bummed-out feelings wadded together into one album, then Morning Phase is basically the same thing but with a more peaceful, zen-like cast to the tone.  If Sea Change was the sound of a man awake and staring at his clock in the darkest parts of the morning, then Morning Phase is the sound of a man waking up into bright sunlight, padding out into the kitchen, making a pot of coffee, and feeling pretty okay.  It’s probably an apt metaphor for where Beck’s head is at these days, on a personal and professional level, and while it does not make for an exhilirating set of songs, per se, it does make for a strong artistic statement.  As Mellow Gold hits its 20th anniversary (!) it speaks to Beck’s artistic bona fides that he can continue to make these sorts of solid, impactful statements after so many years.

GRADE:  B+

Standouts:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H41bw8N-fQU]

-“Heart Is A Drum”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PugIf_WlosA]

-“Say Goodbye”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iea-ozFzGzw]

-“Wave”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N63tT1z7RAw]

-“Waking Light”

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