Key Tracks: “Say Goodbye” “Wave”
Since revealing that he would finally be releasing a new album, Beck has been promoting “Morning Phase” as a sequel to his 2002 album “Sea Change.” Beck’s music before that album, and most of it since, has been characterized by boundless energy, an almost unnecessary amount of instruments, samples, and verses that were often made up on the spot and never replaced. “Sea Change,” however, is a moody, acoustic work inspired by the break-up with his girlfriend of nearly a decade. “Morning Phase” is definitely a sequel – but the kind of sequel that tells a new story, not one that just rehashes what was done before.
“Morning Phase” is marked by it’s lack of instruments. “Morning,” the album’s first track (save a brief string intro), is a haunting and almost painfully-timed song, and starts with just an acoustic rhythm. It characterizes the album – it’s slower, calmer and more emotional than any of Beck’s most recent albums. But unlike “Sea Change,” which got too moody and self-indulgent (justifiably), this album has a wide range of emotions. Although the whole album sounds dry and down – it’s deceiving. There are tracks like that, certainly, but “Don’t Let It Go” and “Blackbird Chain” have a subtly popping vibe. It’s hopeful, at least. “Morning Phase” is certainly a thematic sequel to “Sea Change,” in the proper way a sequel should be.
One of the things to analyze on any Beck album is how many instruments are present, and how they’re being used. To say “Morning Phase” is a largely acoustic work does not equate to it being less interesting musically. “Say Goodbye” and “Blue Moon” are marked by unpredictable guitar strumming and rhythms, “Unforgiven” trades the guitar for a warped, piano drone, and finale “Waking Light” suddenly erupts into a full band setting, for the first time on the album. But the shining light is the album’s midpoint. “Wave” is far and away the album’s best song, and already stands up to the best songs in Beck’s discography. The song has no percussion, instead driven by a full string section, composed by Beck’s father, David Campbell. Beck’s voice flies loud and long over the strings, accompanied with almost no other music. It’s a dark song, centered around some of the album’s lighter tracks, and it’s one of the most ambitious songs Beck’s ever done.
While “Sea Change” was a relentlessly dark album, brought on by one sharp event, “Morning Phase” is a more diverse work, and seems to be inspired by years of reflection in the first album’s aftermath. It’s a rare sequel that’s better than the first. It might take a few more listens than most Beck albums to really get into, but it’ll be just as memorable as his better works. Beck fans were probably waiting for another crazy album, and we got the opposite, and it’s every bit as pleasing as hoped for. It’s been a long six years, but Beck leaves no need for an apology.
-By Andrew McNally