Beck is a chameleon of the music world. From the “slacker-alternative with a side of hip-hop” sound of his early recordings like Mellow Gold and Odelay; to the moody, brooding esthetic used on albums like Mutations and Sea Change, Beck can just about play any type of genre one could imagine. Some of us are old enough to remember mid to late-90s Beck although it seems like that was a totally different artist compared to his most recent work. He’s now a 43 year old husband and father of two and he has clearly matured as a person and an artist. Morning Phase carries the similar melancholia of a record like Sea Change but also carries the lyrics of a man waking up from a long dreamy sleep ready to move on with positive feelings about the new day. Songs like “Morning” and “Waking Light” describe thematic elements of a new dawn and starting over while some of the slowed-down orchestral tones, like in the songs “Cycle” and “Wave,” give the album a sadder undertone.
The singles released last year by Beck gave little to no indication of what Morning Phase would sound like or feel like but that maybe he would be carrying over the style of music from 2008’s Modern Guilt. And yet again, as he has done so many times before, Beck throws us a changeup when everyone thought he was going to throw a curve ball. In a recent interview in an NPR piece, Beck says he feels the need to innovate and emphasizes how he spent his early years feeling like there was no reason to rehash old musical styles. On Morning Phase the need to innovate shines through in the tracks “Blackbird Chain” and “Country Down,” the most alt-country sounding songs on the whole record, the latter of those two prominently featuring the steel guitar. Both of those songs don’t necessarily follow the theme of the rest of them album, but display Beck’s ability to show you his versatility. Also according to the NPR piece, Beck had started a country album he recorded in Nashville but scrapped the project in lieu of a new record.
The album closes with the aforementioned song “Waking Light.” Time signature changes, atmospheric vocal whispers and piano, heavy bass drum thumps, and Beck’s breathy vocals help to bring this song to its full potential as probably the most powerful song on the entire record. The chorus of this song goes like this, “When the memory leaves you, somewhere you can’t make it home. When the morning comes to meet you, rest your eyes in waking light.” It’s a refreshing message of hope and self-adjustment.
With Morning Phase being his 12th release, we can only expect that Beck will be around for a long time innovating and inspiring musicians to continue to change. He’s easily one of the most influential musicians of the past 20 or more years and deserves much more praise then he gets. Morning Phase is out now at your local retailers and, of course, on all major Internet downloading and streaming sites. Although he’s not much for touring these days, you can catch Beck at some of the major festivals this year including Coachella and Edgefest in Texas, and as a headliner at Pitchfork in Chicago.
Here’s “Waking Light”: