Beck has had a funny old career really. From the enormous promise of ‘Odelay’ to arena headlining status throughout the 2000s, religious dabbling and serious back injury, his work has become somewhat sporadic and now garners less attention in the fickle music climate of the 2010s. But pay attention we should – especially when the work is as interesting as his latest album, ‘Morning Phase’.
Whether you like the early lo-fi Beck or the genre dabbling of ‘Mutations’ (mainly country) to ‘Midnight Vultures’ (mainly funk) or the downbeat but beautiful ‘Sea Change’ (2002), you’ll probably like this release, which is closer to ‘Sea Change’ than it is to ‘Modern Guilt’ (his 2008 release).
Again, a somewhat melancholic air pervades, but not in a depressing way. He must have been in a funny old mood when he wrote the album though, as he creates different moods on every song, not necessarily sad moods, but always mellow and thoughtful. There’s lots going on with these songs and there is genuine charm in the countrified layers of songs like the album’s single Blue Moon and the gentle semi-acoustic Blackbird Chain.
Like ‘Sea Change’ and ‘Mutations’, it is not as experimental as some of Beck’s other works. There’s not much in the way of loops or eccentric overdubs, but it is full of nice touches such as gorgeous strings and subtle echo on the vocals. The overall effect is to create one of ‘those’ atmospheric albums, think Nick Drake’s ‘Five Leaves Left’, Bill Fay’s 1970s work or even the more pastoral efforts of Pink Floyd. This is particularly evident if you listen to it late at night, preferably with headphones.
Apparently the artist had a lot of ideas and false-starts for this album over the last 3 or 4 years, and he cites the recovery from his back injury and the involvement of his father (who did the string arrangements) for being big contributions to how the album turned out. We should be grateful too as this is a very rewarding album, certainly one of Beck’s best.