US - California - Full Moon 215 - 03/16/14
Finally, on February 25th 2014 Morning Phase arrived. Beck's first album in nearly 6 years, following 2008's playful and bouncy
Modern Guilt (where Beck teamed up with producer Danger Mouse, and with Chan 'Cat Power' Marshall as a vocal side-kick on a couple
of tracks). Morning Phase is said to be "...a companion piece of sorts to Sea Change".
Is it good, then? Does Beck still have 'it', 21 years after "Loser"? Time will show. Is this a new phase, a new face, maybe? Morning
Phase is a 'new start', on a new label, but it sees Beck returning to himself - his old self - revisiting his so-called 'break-up' album,
Sea Change from 2002.
Last year's triple of stand-alone vinyl singles - "Defriended", "I Won't Be Long", and "Gimme" - saw his return as a recording artist
again, after testing his producing skills for Thurston Moore and Stephen Malkmus.
Well, the 7" single "I Just Started Hating Some People Today" hit the shelves in 2012, as did his sheet music project, Song Reader
(plus the very limited edition 7" "Looking for a Sign"). But, last year's singles presented the comeback of an eagerly creative and productive
Beck. With a lot of songs ready, or racked up for the near future. "There's three to four albums,
80 per cent finished, and all pretty different," Beck said in the February 2014 issue of Mojo (an untitled LP is tentatively scheduled
for next September, according to various sources). Morning Phase features many of the same (studio) musicians who played on Sea
Change, they've also been a steady Beck crew for many years: longtime bass player/musical director Justin Meldal-Johnsen [who's been
touring/recording for a long list of acts, such as: Nine Inch Nails, Air, Garbage, The Mars Volta, Dixie Chicks, Dido, Charlotte Gainsbourg,
Goldfrapp, Ladytron, and more...], drummer Joey Waronker [also a session drummer for R.E.M., as well as being a member of 'super group' Atoms
For Peace along with Thom Yorke, Flea, and former Beck-producer and musician Nigel Godrich], guitarist Smokey Hormel, keyboardist and multi
instrumentalist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. [formerly of Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, plus other projects, as well as being a session musician
for Air, and more], and guitarist Jason Falkner [formerly of The Three O'Clock, Jellyfish, and more]. Beck's father David Campbell has been
arranging strings, as he did on Sea Change [Campbell's resume counts a long'n'wide'n'broad spectre of artists. Just google and see,
the list is very, very, very long...]. Well, then, all boring facts aside - let's face (or, rather, ear) the music.
In prior to the album's release two 'singles' (digitally dropped) have come out as teasers: "Blue Moon" (available from January 20th)
and "Waking Light" (February 4th). The album opens with a short instrumental, "Cycle", before the 'title track' "Morning" rise (there's another
track called "Phase", together they're giving us a 'split twin' title track). "Morning" is like being the 'little brother' of "The Golden Age"
off Sea Change, as I find them to be quite similar, in tone, harmony and mood. 'A companion piece...' Yes, the album continues, with
Beck and his players showing fine song crafting, beautiful harmonies, and nice playing. Classic Beck balladry. Perfect emotions, just the
right moods. But. And, there is a 'but'. Even though everything's pretty, and sweet, and well-done, I'm still a bit disappointed. By all means,
this is a very good album. It's not bad. Bad is not a word in the Beck dictionary. But, I get this feeling that Beck is able to write and
release many a collection of songs just like this - snap! - just like that. As nice, as good, well-performed and as well-arranged and well-produced.
Disappointed? Yes, I am. A bit. Because, what I believe, is that it's so easy for Beck to write an album with songs like the ones on Morning
Phase. So, best songs, then? My choices are "Blue Moon" and "Waking Light", which are grand tracks. And, you'll hardly find a weak
track here. Nevertheless, I'm disappointed with Morning Phase. Or, since Sea Change was a break-up album; could this be
'Mourning Phase'...? Or, simply 'Morning Face'...
Beck has said that he'll release more stand-alone vinyl singles like he did last year. Guess that I'll be happily disappointed with his
upcoming stuff as well. Yet, I'll run out to buy them all. Feeling happy. Simply because... I like Beck and Beck's music (Scientology, on
the other hand...). I also do like Morning Phase, even though I'm disappointed with it as well. Confused? Well, me too.
Copyright © 2014 Håvard Oppøyen