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Beck is back again

Album Critic

columnist

Published: Monday, February 24, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 24, 2014 23:02

Scott

Mikayla Kapp photo

Scott E Hall

Rating: 8/10

"Morning Phase" is Beck's first album in nearly six years. Holy crap. This guy is a ’90s alternative rock hero. I basically worshiped him when I was a junior in high school. My personal blog is even titled after a Beck quote. My love for Mr. Beck Hansen has faded over time, but somewhere within, I have been waiting for this album to come for six years.

Between "Morning Phase" and 2008's "Modern Guilt," Beck has produced multiple albums for other artists, covered entire albums with his Record Club project and has done some songs here and there for himself. Doing duets with Bats for Lashes, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jack White and MGMT can only satisfy a fan for so long. When he announced he was releasing an album in 2014, I was ecstatic. I was a little worried, though. He said this would be a sequel to his 2002 album "Sea Change." This was disappointing news at first. "Sea Change" is some of his best work for having a uniquely slow, depressing, layered sound. I didn't want to hear more sad, moaning, acoustic songs from Beck. Luckily, this album keeps the instrumentation but replaces the somberness with joy. It's the happiest Beck has ever sounded.

The opening chords of "Morning" might sound exactly like Beck's 2002 track "The Golden Age," but the lyrics are more optimistic and he uses a higher vocal range. In fact, Beck's voice throughout "Morning Phase" hits notes we've never heard him sing before. Also, the production on this album sounds huge. Most of his work from the last decade sounded like small-scale alternative radio music. No, none of these songs sound like they belong on the radio, but they demand a great pair of speakers.

"Heart Is a Drum" is a pleasant surprise. Its song structure is reminiscent of ’70s singer-songwriters like Don McLean, even post-Beatles McCartney. The lyrics are cheesy, but I think that's the point. The overdubbed vocals on the album make his voice shine, especially on tracks like "Unforgiven" and "Waking Light." There’s no trace of the raspy, grungy voice we used to know.

However, this album has its downfalls. I don't always connect with Beck's lyrics here. It's a problem he's had for about 10 years. He reuses the same few words and cliches and tosses them around. The first words on this album are "Woke up this morning." The chorus to "Blue Moon" simply says, "Oh, don't leave me on my own, you left me standing all alone." I know he's trying to paint some imagery to his songs, but we get the point.

The album’s structure is easy to understand. Each track is in its right place. The string arrangements that interlude from song to song give the album a warm, enjoyable flow. Beck speeds things up on the album's climax "Turn Away." It's a great track, but I wish it had more dramatic volume. I wish some of these songs were catchier, particularly the overly complicated "Blackbird Chain." It's my obvious pick for least favorite track.

I mentioned earlier that none of the songs here are radio-worthy, but the album has some truly great moments. The string arrangements on "Wave," which were provided by Beck's father Glen Campbell, required some serious musical chops to compose. The percussion on "Heart Is a Drum" is classic for driving down the highway with the window down. The album's opening sounds so crisp, so you know the rest of the journey is going to a comfortable ride.

I'm a big fan of the depressing "Sea Change" album. "Morning Phase" is a worthy sequel, hopefully a new beginning for Beck. It's his best album in more than 10 years; an easy, joyful listen. My stingy critical side tells me this album is nothing new, but at the end of the day, this is a great “comfort food” album. Its lovable highlights outshine its weaknesses. It’s an excellent soundtrack for a sunny morning.

Scott Hall is a newcomer to the world of journalism. He is studying public relations and stage management at USU. His spare time is dedicated to music. For more, email scottehall3@gmail.com. 

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