You’re going to read a lot of reviews throughout the blogosphere comparing and contrasting Beck’s new album, Morning Phase, and his epic mountain of emotion that is 2002’s Sea Change. This is because Beck himself recently stated that his new album is to be a “companion piece” to his now-classic one and that, frankly, the acoustic nuances of Morning Phase are indeed bred from the same cloth as the Sea Change sessions (musicians featured on that earlier album appear here as well).
But these are facts that are out in the open and that we all know by now. I’m not going to try to compare and contrast these albums, only to arrive at the same conclusions as every other blog out there (though that still might be inevitable). That being said, Beck’s 12th studio album properly returns him to our consciousness after six years and steadily collects a wealth of gorgeously-produced, pleasurable arrangements — even if they don’t add up to much.
The bright, opening orchestral track, “Cycle,” appropriately starts Morning Phase and establishes the kind of record it’s going to be, which is a warm and relaxed affair. That track opens into “Morning,” riding along gentle guitar chords before bursting into a rising and lovely hook. It all has a nice Southern twang, accompanying Beck’s soothing vocals with clarity, even when his lyrics are zen-like and questionable.
Normally I would now go into the rest of the record’s tracklist in depth, but I’ve pretty much said all I wanted to say: each track is that unusually similar. Morning Phase, overall, is an odd listening experience, seeing Beck evoke the likes of Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel with excellent balladry and precise production but without ever really sounding uniquely Beck.
By which I mean his typical application of alternative music methods, which we’ve come to know and love him for for over twenty years, isn’t exactly present here save for “Blue Moon” and the last track, “Waking Light,” which takes a while to get to. Morning Phase doesn’t necessarily meander, but it’s also never substantially impressive, instrumentally or constructively. Considering he released the wonderfully enthusiastic solo tracks “Gimme” and “I Won’t Be Long” last year without much fanfare, it’s weird that he would opt for a largely safe return into the public consciousness instead of leading us onto another path for further musical exploration. It’s especially weird when the majority of lyrical content here is steeped heavily in the theme of holding onto your past.
What you’ll find with Morning Phase is a simple and neutral acoustic session, acting more as a project in the interim for Beck than a fully-realized album release, which is why the record is something of a disappointment. Beck has showered us with displays of masterful production before, and Morning Phase is no different — it just doesn’t add up to a whole lot this time around. Perhaps Evening Phase isn’t too far behind?
Beck’s Morning Phase is out now on Capitol Records.
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