This is the best new album I have bought in many a years and has been added to "hair on the back of the neck" discs, It is beautifully written. I had not listened to or had any interest in Beck since Odelay...This new collection of poems was recommended by a work colleague who has similar tastes, Neil Young, Love, Bob Dylan etc, We were talking about Nick Drake at the time and he said have you heard? So I took a punt and it is now on all of my devices, the disc is in the car. The track "Heart is a Drum" has somehow managed to lift me out of a low period I have been through....The power of good music amazes me. I am grateful that the likes of Beck are able to put into words and melody how I feel,
I've had a rather on-off relationship with Beck over the years. His chameleon-like musical abilities mean that somebody unfamiliar with his work could listen to two albums back to back and not even realise that they were listening to the same artist. This means that the prospect of a new Beck album doesn't necessarily fill me with excitement; I have enjoyed plenty of his releases, but I've also positively disliked a couple of his efforts too. One of his most distinctive pieces of work is his 2002 album, "Sea Change", produced by Nigel Godrich, which, up until this point, stood alone as arguably his best record (the hugely creative "Odelay" being the other contender) with a dreamy, expansive, acoustic, shimmering character. Now, with "Morning Phase", his first album in six years, he has released a self-produced record every bit the equal of "Sea Change", the album that many fans consider to be his masterpiece. It wouldn't be inaccurate to describe this as a follow-up album to "Sea Change", such is the similarity between the two bodies of work, but "Morning Phase", importantly, still has a character of its very own and, although it doesn't have advantage of the element of surprise which made its older sibling such a beautifully refreshing listen, it is probably the better album.
There are echoes of Nick Drake, Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel ("Turn Away", especially) and all of the hallmarks of the late sixties/early seventies folk greats in abundance on this album. I wouldn't want you to think that you were going to hear something stripped down and entirely folk, though, there is definitely something rather sumptuous and grand about "Morning Phase", an impressive vision throughout the set that takes the compositions to a higher level than any simply defined genre. There is also evidence that Beck has learned much from working with Nigel Godrich, as you can almost hear his trademark sound on some tracks and surrounding himself with excellent musicians such as Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Jason Falkner and Joey Waronker as well as a truly wonderful full string section conducted by one of the industry's most accomplished figures, David Richard Campbell (Beck's father) means that this is a magnificently arranged and recorded piece of work, featuring much of the same personnel who made "Sea Change" such a remarkable record. This project has taken him five years to write, record, polish, re-record and develop - it is an intricately-crafted labour of love and the amount of time he has spent on it has paid dividends; it's almost eerily perfect. Quite simply, "Morning Phase" is probably the best album Beck has ever made and, without a doubt, one of the finest pieces of work I am likely to hear this year.
Here it is. Six years or so of waiting. The long-awaited follow up to Modern Guilt, Morning Phase is billed as a companion piece to Sea Change. The connection between this album and it's 2002 predecessor is obvious from the outset. The string intro 'Cycle' reminiscent of 'Lonesome Tears', then 'Morning' which has echoes of 'The Golden Age'. 'Heart Is A Drum' reminds me, like several moments on this album of the Pink Floyd of Obscured By Clouds / Meddle era, and this is my overriding feeling, listening to Morning Phase, more so than the Sea Change comparison. It is a more uplifting listen than Sea Change. 'Say Goodbye' with its crisp acoustic guitar and banjo has a Neil Young vibe followed by the first song which was trailed ahead of the album release, the heartfelt single 'Blue Moon' which gives way to the slower tempo of 'Unforgiven' A striking aspect of this record is the production. It sounds like a Nigel Godrich production, with whom Beck has worked on some of his finest albums. It is clear that he has learned a lot during their collaborations and appears to have now matched him in terms of lending his music drama and atmosphere. 'Wave' has plenty of both. Beck's father, David arranges here the string section which has real gravitas. It is a stand-out song on a stand-out album and it's strings remind me a little of some of the darker arrangements from 'The Wall', and another Floyd comparison. 'Dont Let It Go' to me is evocative of the Ryan Adams of Heartbreaker era but with haunting vocal harmonies which have a 'Runners Dial Zero' flavour. Blackbird Chain also has a Mutations feel and is followed by another string arrangement 'Phase' 'Turn Away' sees Beck back into full-on Pink Floyd mode,reminding me very much of 'GoodBye Blue Sky' in both tempo and instrumentation, in addition to Beck's Dave Gillmore-like mellow harmonising and multi-tracked vocals. Beautiful. 'Country Down' is an alt-country anthem reminding me in some senses of Neil Young's On The Beach era. 'Waking Light is a fitting finale to an epic Beck release, and has many of the elements of what makes this such a great album - the lush strings, the vocal harmonies and the Pink Floyd type arrangements. The finale leaves you with sense that you have just heard a classic which will go down as one of Beck's very finest. Is this the best Beck album? It's difficult to say. I am playing a very lot at the moment, but then it's been a long time in coming. I will say though, that along with The Information, Sea Change, Mutations and Odelay (Not to mention the acoustic version of Modern Guilt), Morning Phase is definitely one of his best
This is such a slow, lush, languid, immersive, beautiful record. Like 'Sea Change', which is very much its blood-brother, it puts us behind the wheel of a comfortable but ageing sedan and takes us on a slow, hazy drive through the desert, with Nick Drake in the passenger seat. But if 'Sea Change' was a drive in the cold moonlight, on 'Morning Phase' we're driving into the bleached-out, watery colours of the dawn.
Beck has always mined deep into the seams of American musical forms, and never more so than in 2012's 'Song Reader', an album so traditional it was only ever issued as sheet music. Those of us who were lucky enough to see Beck and his pals perform 'Song Reader' at last year's Barbican jamboree might have expected the same gleeful, antic spirit of experimentation and discovery from 'Morning Phase'. No chance. While the new new album is as in love with the past as its immediate forebear (how can it not be with a song titled 'Blue Moon' and a first lyric that begins "Woke up this morning"?), it's also the most restrained, constrained record in Beck's entire canon. Musically, it completely recaptures the woozy feel and texture of 'Sea Change', but whereas that album's lyrics railed against the traps of fate and circumstance, 'Morning Phase' just opens its palms and accepts what life throws at it. Like Beck sings in 'Wave' "If I surrender and I don't fight this wave, I won't go under, I'll only be carried away."
Goodness knows we could all do with this kind of blissed-out West Coast sunshine in our lives after the miserable winter we've all just endured. If you have the patience to let its charms slowly enfold you, 'Morning Phase' will warm your bones like a familiar old pullover.
I am not a 'fan' and this was not an instant favourite. Sure, the gorgeous string arrangements, steel guitar picking and the obvious nods to Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel were very welcome. But, the funeral pace of every track made it feel like a relentless downer that failed in its search for dynamics. So, I am surprised to say the least that it has went on to be my most 'played on repeat' album of the last few years. As he says , "just let it go". Give yourself in to its glorious torpor.
I am not a fan of Beck but was intrigued by the reviews on Amazon and comparisons with Nick Drake amongst others. Very impressed and will check out the back catalogue. The opening 4 songs is the strongest opening I have heard in years. Heart is a Drum is a favourite and Say Goodbye is a classic break up song. Shades of CSN and Lauren Canyon in LA with some excellent instrumentation and production.