Beck 'Morning Phase' Review: An Ethereal Collection Of Honest Tracks
Beck's newest album, Morning Phase, is full of mellow and ethereal tracks. Free-floating and lilting. Maybe it’s just because I’m desperate for spring and sunshine after a long, cold, wet winter, but this album lives up to its title: a morning album. It’s the perfect soundtrack to an early morning on a warm spring day, with sun shining into the window, the whole day unplanned.
The heavy influence of Pink Floyd and the Beatles is evident from the beginning, but at points it borders on ludicrous. I’m not too big on Pink Floyd, so it was quite a surprise to hear the rolling cacophonies on closing track, “Waking Light,” and actively realize it sounds like Pink Floyd. It’s never unpleasant- the musical stylings have a synergy that flows beautifully on this album- but it can be a bit heavy-handed. The vocals range from funereal to otherworldly to echoes of the Beach Boys, sometimes within the same song. At times it’s hard to reconcile: in “Blackbird Chain,” the title obviously references the Beatles, the instrumentation and chorus are heavily reliant on Pink Floyd, and the verses and opening smack of the Beach Boys.
For all the light-hearted sunshine and optimism embedded in the instrumentals, the lyrics betray a different story. They are dark, sometimes self-loathing, swollen with pity and tinged with a desperate clamber to return to stability. Is that what this album is? A husk of a fresh start with the core of a smarting wound?
Admittedly, getting over it was never one of Beck’s strong suits- his last album, Modern Guilt, came out in 2008 loaded with blistering condemnations substantially angrier than anything on Morning Phase. But in this album, it’s hard to pinpoint the origin of these sad lamentations, whether the sadness originates from putting in an honest effort to move on and give up, or if it’s leftover despair from Modern Guilt. He does have it right, though – there’s something sad about letting something go and moving on, even though for all intents and purposes it should be a positive change. It is very, very rare to find anything that accurately captures that ambivalence in music the way Beck has in Morning Phase.
The only track that doesn’t earn its keep is “Country Down,” which, predictably, has a country twang that doesn’t quite fit with Morning Phase’s formula of Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Beatles, repeat. It’s not a bad track, it just seems a bit out of place- perhaps it would have worked better on the next album.
Morning Phase is a delightfully multi-layered album that flows wonderfully- in no small part due to brief instrumental interludes – made infinitely more dimensional by the dark undertones floating underneath the deceptively laid back melodies. After giving it a few proper listens, it’s hard to tell when the “morning phase” really is- is it the dawn after a night without sleeping? Or is it the morning after a freeing, life-changing decision? Depending on where your priorities are when you listen to music, it could be either one.