Breaking out of the fringes during the grunge revolution of the nineties, Beck came to the fore with a style full of incisive anti-folk sentiment and satirical experimentation. Raised by avant-garde parents in the aftermath of the pop-art movement, his was a voice that was sharp, clear and easily heard among the forefathers of the indie uprising.
Beck’s new album, Morning phase, was built as a companion piece to the now twelve year old Sea Change, an album that was deeply personal yet culturally irreverent in a relevant way. Unfortunately, the companionship offered by Morning Phase is largely empty, like a conversation with an old friend who just waits for their turn to talk and then has nothing to say. In fact, by anchoring it to the past so explicitly it’s easier to see how little progress has been made. It becomes a way of emulating what has gone before without having to gain anything from it.
There’s a pervasive feeling that nothing has been able to make Beck happy in the time that has gone by. Passively clingy, the voices of indie pioneers echo out of each track as if from some deep backwater canyon. The compositions are littered with limpid string arrangements, banjo and piano melodies that are pleasantly mellow, if not a little maudlin, it actually feels quite unfortunately shallow. It could simply be the direction of the thing, being a more inward facing undertaking than we’re used to receiving, but there’s a sad sense of surrender throughout the album, an aged acquiescence living inside it that feels a little selfish.
The problem is that most of it feels too intimate to be connected with. The songs seem to be written exclusively for him or for someone dear departed, a message created specifically for someone other than you and then delivered with frustratingly consistent insularity. There’s no room made for engagement and no hint that it might even be welcome.
Morning Phase might be a great love letter for it’s intended, but for everyone else there’s not even the perverse satisfaction of reading a strangers diary, just empty sentiment without calibration.