Beck is like that weird uncle who’s really popular but often doesn’t get invited places. He’s fun to be around, but often isolates back into seclusion and is left pretty much alone. Therefore his successful career slips my mind, and I’m not reminded of him until he does something big like Morning Phase, his 12th studio album. I’m not well versed in the subject that is Beck, but this new release forces me to remember his uniqueness and talent.
The teaser that starts the album doesn’t require much. It fades in with strong string instruments but fades quickly. It segways into “Morning”, which begins with a light acoustic guitar. This is the sort of song that reminds me of warm weather and sadness. It has an airy tone, but a certain ambiance that humbles back into seriousness. The lyrics and rhythm contract slightly, especially when Beck sings, “looked up this morning/saw the roses full of thorns/guns are falling/they don’t have nowhere to go” and “we’ve worn it all down/into something that couldn’t be said/yeah, tie it all down/and bury me underneath the waves.” Beck is also careful with his voice, which is soothing and smooth. The song becomes a pretty expression of despair, although mixing is usually risky.
The entire album deserves analysis, but some of my favorite songs that are worth mentioning include “Heart Drum”, “Say Goodbye”, “Don’t Let it Go” and “Blackbird Chain”.
“Heart Drum” sounds like a collective, where Beck uses echoes to make his voice fuller and complete. It has an acoustical base, but little electronic techniques are thrown in to add some space-age effects and emphasis. It starts with this heavy effect, but turns into a slow jam very quickly. I also like the prose which includes verses like, “you’ve lost your tongue/when you fall from the pendulum” and “everyone/if they drown from the undertow/need to find someone/to show me how to play it slow.” Plus the repeated phrase “your heart is a drum/keeping time with everyone” that follows a musical beat and sounds pleasant. “Say Goodbye” starts off a little deeper, with a drop in tone and multiple guitars. I like that it sounds a little country with a feeling of comfort, but it still follows in step with the rest of the songs. What I like most are the lyrics, which are a little angry and melodramatic: “I will wait/take a turn/sort it out/let it burn/and empty out/and empty drawer/in my pockets/there’s nothing more.” Beck also attempts description with, “bones crank/curtains drawn/on my back/and the sheet is gone.”
“Don’t Let It Go” is another smooth, soft, acoustic-based song. At times there’s a drum to be heard in the background, and maybe a little piano, but the song is dominated by Beck’s voice. Even when the song crescendos into a full tone, with every instrument adding more, what’s heard most is Beck. Everything shapes him. But he also creates this strong presence with repetitive lyrics like, “don’t let it go/don’t you see how far/don’t let it go away/it’s gone away.” This action emphasizes.
“Blackbird Chain” is probably my favorite track. It starts so simple with acoustic chords, but eventually picks up electric instruments to turn more into a ’70s revolution jam. It’s light and airy with a complete, full sound, but takes a forceful approach to commitment. My favorite lyrical line, “I’ll never never never…refuse you” just inspires a sense of dedication and romanticism. An awful surrender, but because of love it’s different. Also, Beck’s diction in this album is incredible and his approach to lyrics is more like poetry. Especially in “Blackbird Chain” with the lyrics, “A keepsake in a dresser drawer/from who-knows-where/a symbol of your exegesis.” Take me now, you awkward wordsmith.
So, I was impressed by Morning Phase. I can’t get over how fantastically this album is put together. The songs follow a certain pattern, a calm one let’s say, but fold into their own personalities and become so much more than just a pack of smooth indie. There’s tidbits of straight instrumental, which is a nice break from the hammering of perfect prose that Beck also provides. If I wasn’t on the wagon before, I am now. Absolutely stunning.