Beck - Morning Phase (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BECK’S first album since 2008 is being described as a companion piece to his 2002 offering Sea Change, which found the singer at his most sombre and heartbroken.
Needless to say, he’s had that heart shattered again but whereas Sea Change was a little bit downbeat for some Beck fans’ tastes (despite offering up gems like Lost Cause and Guess I’m Doing Fine), Morning Phase is a more optimistic listen.
Yes, Beck sings candidly about the emotional devastation of a break-up but there’s a sense of greater experience here. Heartbreak, like love itself, comes and goes. Hence, there’s a lot to like here.
Current single Blue Moon is a case in point… a track that’s driven by some great acoustic guitar and trademark beats. It’s reflective and thoughtful lyrically but you may well find your toes tapping along as you listen to it.
That’s not to say the whole album resists the urge to become serious. Unforgiven, like its name suggests, has a greater darkness to it… as underlined by the sombre piano chords, haunted vocal delivery and atmospheric electronics that accompany it.
But for every cloud, there’s a silver lining. And that’s evident from the outset, with Morning kick-starting the album proper amid steady acoustic chords and some lovely keyboard arrangements that have an almost dream-like quality.
Wave, meanwhile, has a sense of the classical to it, thanks to some string arrangements (from his father, no less) and a haunted yet dramatic central vocal. It’s the furthest the album gets from what could be deemed a recognisable Beck track, yet it simultaneously highlights this particular artist’s capacity for diversity and, in its own way, is utterly beguiling.
That it’s followed by Don’t Let It Go with its tender acoustics and opening salvo “you’d better save yourself” is somehow a perfect follow-on. Here, a brooding chorus warns “don’t let it go”, while the acoustics become ever sparser, and some lovely piano chords weave their way in and out. Again, it maybe more deliberately paced than some Beck fans may have been hoping for in a comeback record, but it’s utterly compelling and beautiful in its own way.
Blackbird Chain, meanwhile, embodies classic folk-rock elements and is another single in waiting, recalling the likes of Dylan and Cohen without dispensing with any Beck-like traditions. It’s also one of the more instantly catchy offerings thanks to a highly melodic chorus.
Country Down, on the other hand, has a touch of classic Elton John about it (circa Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), as well as a country twang befitting its name and a lovely harmonica solo. It also has a sense of longing that is irresistible.
Waking Light rounds things off with another gem… stirring string and piano arrangements, a vocal that soars towards the epic at points, and another classic vibe that contributes to a great listening experience, complete with a grand finale in which all of the instrumentation comes together majestically.
Hence, for all of its inherent sorrow, Beck’s return is something to savour.
Download picks: Blue Moon, Say Goodbye, Morning, Wave, Don’t Let It Go, Blackbird Chain, Turn Away, Waking Light