Words About Music
Beck “Morning Phase”
Beck is one of mainstream alternative rock’s most fascinating and versatile figures. He’s experimented with lo-fi, noise, pop, electronica, hip hop, country, folk, R&B, funk, basically every conceivable genre, and made it his own. Sure, not every experiment has paid off, but for every not-entirely-great album there’s been at least a few great songs. With his 12th studio album “Morning Phase” comes the end to the longest between-album gap we’ve ever seen from the normally prolific Scientologist: six years. With the hype at an all time high, the critics seem to love what Beck has marketed as a stylistic companion to his 2002 sad-guy masterpiece “Sea Change.” While I do agree with them sometimes, I must say that me and the real critics out there are not at all on the same page in regards to this album.
First off, let me say that to me “Morning Phase” is one of the most boring albums I think Beck has ever created. Even “Sea Change” is a fascinating listen in its melancholy. The ideas there seemed fully formed where they seem half baked on “Morning Phase,” which doesn’t make sense since this album has been in the works since 2005. Surely he’s had time to think of other ideas than “Make an album that sounds like folk-pop B-sides.” But, unfortunately, what we’re left with is an album that sounds like Chris Martin making sweet romantic love to Justin Vernon after a Dave Matthews Band concert. This album wants so badly to be a Bill Callahan album, but isn’t nearly as believable.
Now I will say that there’s not anything that bad about the performances on this album. Beck is in top vocal form and the musical accompaniment is in fact akin to that of “Sea Change.” There’s just something about the atmosphere, pace, and qualitative sameness that makes this album not very appealing to me. I mean, sure, there are songs like “Morning” and “Unforgiven” that are at the very least memorable and worth listening to in their own right. But for the most part this album is more boring than it is sad or affecting. I feel very little emotional connection with the songs on here because it doesn’t even feel like a Beck album. If there’s any quality that “Morning Phase” lacks as a whole is that it feels so disconnected.
So yeah, I’d say it’s pretty obvious at this point that “Morning Phase” is an album I’m probably incapable of truly liking. The slow melancholy vibe is done with much better precision by groups like Bon Iver and The National, and both groups have released far better albums since Beck’s last release. Maybe my expectations were too high upon hearing that Beck was trying to recapture the spirit of “Sea Change.” Maybe my expectations were too high upon hearing that Beck was releasing an album. Maybe I have to be a Scientologist to fully understand what’s going on here. Or maybe it’s a mediocre blip in Beck’s long untouchable discography. This isn’t a career ruiner and I imagine there are tons of people who like this album. But for me, it’s an emotionless effort that deserved to be way better than it actually was.
SCORE – 4.7
FAVORITE TRACKS – Morning, Unforgiven, Don’t Let It Go, Blackbird Chain