Review Summary: Cruising in nostalgia country.
It’s difficult to decide which of these scenarios is more daunting – not knowing whether you’re capable of achieving something, or realising that you've got nothing left to prove or accomplish. Musical chameleon Beck Hansen finds himself firmly rooted in the latter category, now over twenty years since his debut release Golden Feelings
. No matter which side of the hypothetical fence you fall on, it’s undeniable that Hansen’s situation is the more enviable; after all, few artists can claim to have discovered and explored all of their musical fancies, and even fewer to such an acclaimed standard.
Arriving at this sonic impasse, what better way to spend the rest of your days than to embrace nostalgia, and to reverse back along that musical highway to revisit your proudest, most successful moments? Morning Phase
drives right into the heart of Sea Change
country, arguably Beck’s finest and most emotive release. 2002’s melancholic masterpiece was fuelled by heartbreak and was as mournful as it was beautiful, and a return to this sound may be embraced even more warmly than the second coming of Odelay
- though bless Guero’s
little heart, it tried.
The soft, calming acoustic guitars, the wandering, often understated strings, and the unashamedly sombre tone which Beck adopted on Sea Change
are all present here, and even without the most potent ingredient heartbreak, Morning Phase
conjures that same relatability, and that same unexplainably fuzzy feeling inside that everything might just be alright after all.
When Hansen croons “but don’t leave me on my own/you left me standing all alone” on lead single “Blue Moon,” a subtle fragility is exposed which hints that old heartbreaks do indeed die hard. This downbeat and lonely perception is only heightened by the cheerless “Wave,” where an effects-laden Hansen drearily repeats the word “isolation” until the song’s end. The lyrical content sees Beck at his most transparent, and there’s more than just a suggestion here that the anger of abandonment he experienced twelve years ago now manifests itself in the fear of rejection instead.
But this isn’t just an emotional train wreck, now where’s that ray of sunshine I hinted at earlier? The various strings utilised throughout, the keys and even a subtle xylophone all combine brilliantly to calmly wash over you like an orchestral shower. Just focus on the banjo which shines intermittently on “Say Goodbye,” the understated xylophone on the optimistic “Morning,” or the powerful strings which take the reins on the instrumentals; opener “Cycle” and the more subdued “Phase.” They fade in and out of the foreground before rising to prevalence, providing just the right amount of hope that a finely balanced album like Morning Phase
needs to succeed. This efficacious instrumentation affords the album a hugely personal feel, and the delicate nature of their placement shows that this really is an album designed to be digested in its entirety.
Although there’s seemingly little left for Beck to achieve by this stage in his career, the fact is, it has forced him to retread old ground, ground which fans of his finest works have been hoping he’d revisit for some time. In this regard, Morning Phase
is a wonderfully forced triumph which Beck has been coerced into crafting by virtue of sheer accomplishment. So fasten your seat belt, take in the sights of yesteryear, and let the past wash right over you - you might just enjoy it as much as you did the first time round.