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Beck – Morning Phase

beckBeck has finally got around to releasing his long-awaited new album, his first since 2008’s Modern Guilt, following a long period where it seemed that he was determined to make anything other than a “proper” album. This scattered list of projects included a handful of unmemorable stand-alone singles, producing albums for countless other artists, soundtrack work, and a collection of original sheet music, “Song Reader”. Although these projects were likeably diverting, many of his fans had one consistent thought in the back of there minds: “Can we have an album please?” and he has lost many of his fairweathers. After a near six year wait, that day has finally arrived.

 

The title Morning Phase is an interesting one. Beck arrives to this album as his first as an elder statesman. As an artist he no longer resembles the one who recorded early angsty hits such as “Loser” and he is no longer the excitable sampler that produced Odelay. Since 2002’s Sea Change, Beck has gradually approached middle age with a grace, dignity and restlessness that few could have predicted. Will his latest phase be as fruitful as those that preceded it?

Beginning with the serenely beautiful “Morning”, the album sweeps the listener along at a pace that is gentle but never threatens to succumb to twee. Songs like “Say Goodbye” engage with a listener with a level of Americana melody that stays on the right side of Jack Kerouac. However this is far from an endlessly dreary acoustic record. The flourishes Beck expresses on “Blue Moon” manage to inhabit a sound that is thrillingly out of time, much like Beck himself.

The albums particularly dark middle third is less enchanting, but still keeps the listener’s attention as it is here that Beck steps the most out of the album’s parameters, with the album taking on a slightly ambient bed, most notably on “Wave”. The album draws to a close with a mood akin to a broken down bar singer, songs like “Country Down” reaching a new depth in both melancholy and depth. Closing track “Waking Light” is one of the album’s peaks and is arguably the synthesis of the whole album, building to a glorious peak built upon all that has preceded it.

This is an album that suggests, or even confirms, that Beck will go down as one of the best of his generation. What he accomplishes in the coming years is a genuinely exciting prospect. Beck is older, wiser and better than he’s been in over a decade. The grumpy boy who made 1994’s Mellow Gold has become a melancholy man, and it’s beautiful to listen to.

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