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Beck’s latest delivers a pleasant turn

Published 4:25pm Saturday, February 22, 2014

“Morning Phase” is perhaps the most pleasant album in Beck’s long and varied career; in fact, it’s probably the most pleasant album in a long time.

When looking back over the many paths Beck’s career has taken, two starkly different albums represent his high points: 1996’s “Odelay” and 2002’s “Sea Change.” “Morning Phase” is nowhere close to the upbeat genre-cluster (I mean that in a positive way) that is “Odelay,” but it’s certainly reminiscent of the acoustic-based “Sea Change.”

In fact, many have called “Morning Phase” a sequel to “Sea Change,” and it’s easy to see why. On his 12th studio album, Beck returns to a mellow, seemingly simple sound. After a short burst of strings on “Cycle,” the album opens on the relaxed, textured “Morning.” From there, Beck weaves together an array of satisfying tracks. With bountiful harmonies and string backings, there’s hints of Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young throughout.

To call “Morning Phase” a sequel to “Sea Change” feels like it’s shortchanging both albums. Sequel feels like comparing it to movie studio big whigs throwing movies out just to make money. Yes, it’s impossible to deny the similarities in the albums’ sound. Just look at the similarities in the cover photos. But, they’re different.

“Morning Phase” is similar to “Sea Change” just like “In Rainbows” is similar to “OK Computer.” The albums are far more similar than another each artist has produced, but the latter album is certainly no copycat.

“Sea Change” emanated heartbreak; it was a somber album Beck produced after a breakup and learning his ex had cheated on him. “Sea Change” conjured up the listener’s own memories of failed relationships and heartbreak.  It’s more, dare I say, emo.

“Morning Phase” is a less emotionally leading take on a similar musical style. The heartbreak isn’t absent from “Morning Phase,” but the sound exudes a dreamy warmth. “Morning Phase” is more tempered and less jaded, and at times even more hopeful.

Just take the song “Wave,” which is carried only by Beck’s voice and a backing of strings, reportedly composed by Beck’s father, David Campbell. With no guitar melodies and no drums, there’s something haunting about Beck singing of giving in and being carried away by the wave before repeatedly singing the words “wave” and “isolation” to end the song.

Songs like “Turn Away” and “Heart Is a Dream” are far more upbeat that anything “Sea Change” had to offer. One reason “Morning Phase” thrives is because the strings remain in the background, never cluttering the sound. From start to finish, Beck makes an album that sounds beautiful, sparse and simple, but it certainly wasn’t simple.

 


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