Beck – Morning Phase

One of my flatmates (Rick) was listening to an album on his laptop in the kitchen the other day and it sounded ok, so I got what it was from him: Beck’s Morning Phase album. (sidenote, my flatmate’s really interesting, he’s doing this marketing degree with me, but also helps his dad run a Roof Repair company, is starting up his own online business while studying and getting involved in the Student Union. Don’t know where he finds time!). Anyway, Beck isn’t normally my kind of thing, but again, I’ve made a decision not to judge and try to expand my tastes! He’s very folk-rock nowadays, basically stuff you’d hear in a Wes Anderson movie.

The title morning phase works for this album, it’s all VEEEERY slow, almost like a slow sunrise, taking forever, almost not even moving until you glance away and look back again. It’s very mellow, fairly dark and bittersweet, a bit stoner-ish, almost like the morning after a long night (figuratively and literally). Some reviewers have said it’s because of the time he spent recovering from a spinal injury, which gave him a lot of time to get dark, insular and self-examining. This is now the “Morning Phase” because he’s woken up to having a normal life again. Either way, you won’t hear this in the club!

So firstly, for me the album is hit and miss. I really like a couple of tracks on here: “Morning”, which sets the tone for the rest of the album, is this great, multi-layered lazy, languid song. It’s like the audio equivalent of a light hangover after a great night, when everything seems a bit brighter, a bit more colourful, but still a bit heavy. Almost like a great sigh. The closing song I really like too: “Waking Light”. Very lo-fi, classic beck, but also very orchestral, big and bold with overtures all over the place.

Also enjoyed “Unforgiven”, sometimes you forget just how good a vocalist beck is, until he reminds you with a blow-out performance! He makes the most of every single syllable in this song, and almost makes it sound like God himself is speaking from on high. Just a great piece. His dad David Campbell (a composer) does the music behind, which is a great symphonic piece.

As for those I don’t like, “Wave” almost tries to ape “Unforgiven” and just ends up sounding like a really poor imitation that an angsty 15 year old would make. It just ends up being melodramatic. I didn’t like “Say Goodbye”, as it just felt a bit lazy, like he’d just done a cover of a Neil Young song. Very California sunshine and nothing interesting there, where we all know beck can do better. Pretty much the same thing for “Heart is a Drum”. There’s a difference between taking on a style of a genre, and outright copying it. I can’t tell the difference between these two songs and Neil Young, or Simon and Garfunkel.

My main problem overall with the album isn’t the music however, it’s the lyrics and the story. While this was an album he made after years of recovering from a serious spinal injury, there’s this decision to not fall into anger or darkness, it’s on the line between them and it’s utterly frustrating.  He gives this feeling of passing off this wisdom to us throughout the album but it feels like the wisdom doesn’t exist in him. It’s almost as if he’s reading a book of new age “emotions fade with time” quotes and platitudes. Nothing here matters and makes the lyrics of the album entirely dull.

All of this creates a feeling as if none of the meaning is genuine and it becomes completely ethereal. Much like the sunrise he’s suggesting, it feels great, but in the end nothing of substance is created.

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