Monday, December 9, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1323: Beck

After a week spent with a single artist (Matt Patershuk) I’m eager to get a few different flavours in this week. Like at a fancy restaurant when they give you three different sorbettos for dessert. First up…something sugary-sweet.

Disc 1323 is… Colors
Artist: Beck

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? The debut album from the New Wave band, “Colour the Hexagon”. Nope, still Beck.

How I Came to Know It: I like Beck so when this record came out and the first couple of singles were promising, I dove in without hesitation.

How It Stacks Up:  I have ten Beck Albums. I won’t be having 11 any time soon, though, as his latest record, “Hyperspace” failed to impress. “Colors” is not remotely the best, but still manages to land at #7, bumping the three records behind it all down a spot.

Here's a full accounting since the last review:

  1. Guero: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 538)
  2. Sea Change: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 520)
  3. Midnite Vultures: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 348)
  4. Morning Phase: 4 stars (reviewed at disc 634)
  5. Modern Guilt: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 288)
  6. Mellow Gold: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 962)
  7. Colors:  3 stars (reviewed right here)
  8. Odelay: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 789)
  9. The Information: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 150)
  10. Mutations: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 187)
Ratings: 3 stars

Beck’s got a great ear for music, but sometimes his records feel more like the work of a great producer than a great songwriter. If it sounds good that shouldn’t matter, and “Colors” has plenty of good songs. However, it also has moments that feels more like someone vainly playing with a soundboard to make a boring song more glamorous.

Beck shifts his style around a fair bit, and it is rare he goes somewhere stylistically that I won’t follow. On his previous record, “Morning Phase” he hearkened back to the pastoral sadness of “Sea Change,” with amazing results.

On “Colors” he digs into the club-inspired dance sounds of 1999’s “Midnite Vultures.” Beck has a natural feel for finding a club groove, and for the most part he succeeds, but unlike “Morning Phase” here he falls short of his earlier inspiration.

This is a good record for a sedate cocktail party, where there’s a small dance floor close to the speakers for those inclined. It would also work for a vodka commercial, where tall women wear sequined dresses and strappy heels, and bros have three-day stubble and rolled up sleeves. One of these parties where everyone does a lot of toothy smiling at one another and everyone gets hammered, but do it klassy.

First, the good news. Even the obvious and boring songs on “Colors” still have a good dance beat. There is nary a tune that is offensive to the ear and some are downright funky, particularly “I’m So Free”, with its mix of falsetto pop singing, fuzz guitar and some kind of late nineties boy-band rap styling. This is Beck at his best, taking a bunch of musical notions that shouldn’t go together and making each complementary to the others.

Wow” is a song that captures the happy side of being gobsmacked; that moment where the glory of the now hits you smack dab in the face, and you like it. Really, it’s just a bunch of effects and lyrics. The effect is the same as listening to that very high dude giving his late-night theory of life on the back porch of a house party. This song reminds you that that dude can actually be entertaining in the right circumstances.

Up All Night” is the radio hit pure and simple, and justifiably so. It is perfectly produced pop glory, good for dancing, driving or just that damned toffee-nosed vodka cocktail party you were at earlier. I was not at all surprise to learn it was number one on US alternative radio, whatever that is.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other tracks, while inoffensive, rely too heavily on the sound editing tricks of Beck (and co-producer Greg Kurstin) to stay afloat. It is masterfully done, but it didn’t feed my soul. “Dear Life” feeds off a latter career Beatles inspiration, but it comes across more as “Magical Mystery Tour” at its worst, than “Sgt. Pepper” at its best. “No Distraction” and “Dreams” both energy to spare, but the bones of the song didn’t hold my attention sufficient for me to enjoy all the liberally applied seasoning Beck and Kurstin later apply.

In the end, “Colors” was a good name for the record. Like the American spelling of the word, it is easy and balanced, but it can leave you wishing there were a bit more organic mystery behind all that convenience.

Best tracks: I’m So Free, Wow, Up All Night

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