Beck’s spinal injury made the recording of his last album, 2008’s Modern Guilt, almost unbearable. When he recorded his vocals, his arms were wrapped around his back the whole time and he could only muster whispers. The pain was enough to stop Beck from wanting to play his own material live. But he never stopped writing. In Dec. 2012, Beck released a book of sheet music, so anyone who bought it would have to learn the songs to hear the album. But now healthy again, we get a 47-minute, long-awaited album with more punch in the vocals.
Morning Phase is a slow-paced, solely acoustic collection of songs that are accompanied by string arrangements from Beck’s father himself. The vivid blotches of color over Beck’s face on this album’s cover resemble 2002’s Sea Change cover. That’s because this new album is meant to be a sequel to Sea Change.
In case you forgot what Sea Change sounded like, I’ll take you back to 2002. Beck completely changed styles. He had recently broken up with his long-time girlfriend, and Sea Change encapsulated that heartbreak. His lyrics shed the clutter and the irony characteristic of his earlier work for clearer and more direct depictions of his emotions. He slowly strums his acoustic. The harmonies he sings along with are expansive. Picture yourself swimming under the sea and hearing the faint sound of whale call in the distance. It’s kinda like that. Anyway, Sea Change was a critical success and is considered one of the better albums made in the 2000s.
Now to 2014. Sonically, Morning Phase, which opens up with a sample of the guitar track from the opening song of Sea Change is very similar to Sea Change. The biggest difference that I notice between the two albums is the overall attitude Beck has in them. Sea Change is desperate – the new album is not (he’s married now). As a consequence of Beck’s despair in Sea Change, the music is pushed to strange places. At one point, a gradual building of strings lasts around one-minute long. Morning Phase is more straight-forward and offers a wider palate of emotion. The common belief about sequels is that they end up worse than what came before it. I’m not sure if this one is as good as Sea Change, but in no way is it a disappointment.
RIYL: The Flaming Lips and Thurston Moore
Key Tracks: “Cycle,” “Blue Moon,” and “Waking Light”