[sic] Magazine

Beck – Morning Phase

There is a cottage industry in the terms of the music business, which has tried to accurately pin down the LA maverick Beck Hanson over the past decades. His chameleonic tendencies that can take his music from hip hop sampling to stoner rock, from lo-fi folk to alt country have long delighted critics playing the game of musical sleuth. What is interesting however is that while his most critically lauded album is the eclectic wonder Odelay released in 1996, if you go to Amazon you will note that it is the 2002 masterpiece Sea Change which gets the ‘public vote’ with double the amount of reviews.

This should not surprise us. Beck released Sea Change as a classic break-up album and packed it with great songs often in the tradition of Nick Drake. With the release of this superb new album Morning Phase he has profitably returned to plough this furrow and produced an album every bit its equal. With essentially the same band that played on Sea Change this record is a more mature older brother. Beck himself has admitted that he has located this album “coming from the tradition of California music” and said, “I’m hearing the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Gram Parsons, Neil Young”. Throw in some British Folk and you will accurately pin this album down.

The songs are stunners. The big ballad ‘Morning’ sounds like Pink Floyd playing country, while the sumptuous ‘Heart is a Drum’ again reprises Nick Drake influences to excellent effect. The song ‘Blue Moon’ has been well trailed in advance of full release and is a beautiful free flowing track with a Lindsay Buckingham tinge. On it Beck talks about being tired of being alone and how he has been “cut down to size/So I can fit inside/The lies that will divide us both in time”.

Despite these lyrics Morning Phase is a much more uplifting and less introspective album than Sea Change There are lush strings based songs such as the haunting ‘Wave’, these contrast with the acoustic folk of the standout ‘Turn Away’ which sees Beck venture into Paul Simon territory. Beck’s confidence throughout the album is brimming not least on the brilliant pop of ‘Blackbird Chain’ and the ‘Harvest’-like strum of ‘Country Down’. The album’s big closer ‘Waking Light’ swells with sensuous ease drawing down the curtain on a totally gripping and immersive album.

Morning Phase is the first new music release that Beck has released in five and half years. It is a record, which he admits he has gradually polished and finessed over the past five years which have also included a spell of illness. As he states about the songs “I found the ones that fit together the best, and then I worked on building it, stripping it back, rewriting it and just kept going until I felt like it was getting better and better.” Thank heavens he persevered. Beck was once described as a ‘Dylan’ In Slacker’s Clothing’ yet Morning Phase shows him refining his art, working like a Trojan and fully delivering the goods.