Review Summary: Beck rehashes rather than reinvents. The results are satisfying at times, tedious at others.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying Beck is a dynamic artist. Not only has he released 11 studio albums since emerging on the musical scene in 1993, each one has had it’s own distinct, genre-blending feel. While his bread and butter is alternative rock, he’s made ventures into hip-hop, folk, jazz, psychedelia, electronic, country, soul, Latin music, blues, and funk. Because of this bombastic approach, no two Beck albums have really sounded the same. Until now.
Upon unveiling the first single for this release, Beck explained that “Morning Phase” was a “companion piece” to his 2002 release “Sea Change” that channeled Bob Dylan and subdued folk rock to great effect. So, contrary to his unformulaic formula of making each album a uniquely new experience that we’ve grown accustomed to, on “Morning Phase” Beck is retreading old ground.
And while it is interesting to see Beck taking the time to refine and rehash a sound he’s already explored, there is a limited amount of new insight to be gleaned from “Morning Phase.” Instead of further developing, tweaking, and expanding the sounds on “Sea Change,” many of the tracks on the new record seem like they came directly from the 2002 album.
The delicate meandering acoustic guitar that drives “Say Goodbye” is pleasant, but nearly identical to “It’s All In Your Mind” from 2002. The subdued melancholy that perforated the entirety of 2002’s “End Of The Day” with downbeat drums and slow guitar twangs is very nearly replicated on “Morning.”
This isn’t necessarily bad -- the sound he established on “Sea Change” was quite good -- but much of “Morning Phase” felt like music I had already heard. Where Beck does decide to experiment and expand his established sound however, the results are much more satisfactory.
On the first half of the album, the up-tempo and catchy “Heart Is a Drum” is quite the foot tapper and lead single “Blue Moon” starts slow before blooming into a beautiful synthesis of vocal harmonies, marching drums, and guitars. Toward the end of the record, “Blackbird Chain” combines piano and violin in a wonderful fashion and closer “Waking Light” finishes the album with an uplifting guitar jam straight out of the ’70s.
Ultimately, “Morning Phase” doesn’t shatter genre boundaries or break much new ground, but it does provide the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day and is most certainly worth a spin or two for fans of folk music or Beck. The similarities to “Sea Change” may be abundant and obvious, but when we remember Beck has spent more than 20 years of putting out consistently diverse records, it’s hard to blame him for trying to build on an old sound instead of inventing a new one.