Beck | ARTIST
Morning Phase | ALBUM
Capitol Records | Label
25 February 2014 | RELEASE DATE
7.3 | 10
Sea Change marked an important shift in the way the world viewed Beck. Mostly known for his stoner-hip-hop-rock stylings, Sea Change found Beck at his most introspective and meditative. After that album became a critical hit, he went as far away from its brand of acoustic sentimentality as he possibly could. Guero featured Beck’s other break-through hit single, “Girl,” while The Information and Modern Guilt, both with their fair share of highlights, were wholly consumed by the digital age. On Beck’s latest, Morning Phase, he returns to the form he previously mastered on Sea Change, and while that sounds like a good deal, after spending time with the album, it’s a challenge to pinpoint exactly why this album exists.
The album is bookended by its two best tracks, “Morning” and “Waking Light.” Both contain the album’s most gorgeous structures, yet only hint at what could have been. While Morning Phase sounds pretty, the songs appear to aim for a timeless quality instead of fitting in with this particular point in time. Most tracks move at a glacial pace, slowly unfurling without any semblance of conflict or opposition. For an album called Morning Phase, Beck’s compositions imply that this is an album for the morning, and not the mourning.
There’s an admirable quality to being content solely with being, yet it rarely makes for a compelling work of art. And that’s the phase Beck finds himself in on this album. As far as background music goes, you won’t be able to do much better than Morning Phase. But there’s an impenetrable aspect to this record, not allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the sonic arrangements.
For an artist always considered to be his own man, playing by his own set of rules, it’s jarring that Morning Phase rings hollow, especially during the second half. While Beck shows an impressive quality in crafting gorgeous, sweeping pop songs, it doesn’t exactly prove anything that Sea Change didn’t prove before it. This is a competent, consistently beautiful work, yet the stakes couldn’t be any lower. The biggest takeaway from Morning Phase is the feeling that this isn’t a phase at all for Beck. This is the new status-quo.