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Published: 2014/03/11
by Ron Hart

Morning Phase


The music of Beck Hansen is very much like a choice bottle of basement wine in their abilities to get better with age.

To my memory, there have been three of his albums that got me immediately: One Foot in the Grave, Odelay! and Mutations —the arguable holy trinity of his catalog which, since the release of his star-making kitchen sink slacker classic Mellow Gold (the singer’s third if you count 1993’s Golden Feelings and 1994’s Stereopathetic Soulmanure, which you absolutely should) approximately 20 years ago, has swelled to a hot dozen with the release of his latest LP, the first one of his 40s entitled Morning Phase (well, at least one actually recorded in a studio, not a collection of music sheets a la last year’s Song Reader ). And each one has fermented to its own special taste on the listener’s palate. For me, it had taken me the entire summer of 1994 to fully appreciate the totality of Mellow Gold. And Hansen’s string of LP’s for Interscope in the 2000s—2005’s Guero, 2006’s The Information and 2008’s Modern Guilt in particular—are gestating nicely into the cream of the Beck crop with each spin since I put all three albums in my regular listening rotation as of late, enjoying the directions he took his thin white funk trip while being largely ignored by the hipster axis.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of pre-release chatter about the second generation musician’s latest album and debut on Capitol Records, Morning Phase, being the “proper” follow-up to his 2003 chamber pop masterpiece Sea Change. However, unlike Sea which, for many, was as immediate an enjoyable listening experience as One Foot… or Mutations was for me, the thirteen cuts that constitute this collection definitely feel like some serious growers. This is not to say that Morning Phase isn’t any good; quite the contrary, actually.

The magic moments here are indeed plentiful when listening with patient ears, as Beck’s father David Campbell and his lush and at times hallucinogenic orchestral arrangements bolster such “Morning”, “Don’t Let It Go” and “Say Goodbye”, perfectly accompanying his son’s somber vocal tone. Then there are times of pure Cosmic California country charm, where elements of an educated tinkering with such traditional instruments as banjo and pedal steel guitar will take you back to the days when David Crosby first went solo on such tunes as “Blue Moon” and “Turn Away”, further enhanced by the accompaniment of his longtime touring band comprised of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Joey Waronker, Roger Joseph Manning Jr, and Smokey Hormel, the same cats who can be heard on Mutations, Midnite Vultures and Sea Change. And then there’s the surprise leftfield appearance of jazz-fusion legend Stanley Clarke, who plays upright bass on opening cut “Morning” and electric bass on “Heart is a Drum”. His presence does not so much overshadow the other players as it does showcase Clarke’s own deft abilities to melt into a band equation thanks to his years in pioneering jazz-rock group Return to Forever.

However, if you hear any of your friends mention Morning Phase is a bit of a snoozer, I can certainly empathize with them, because that’s how I felt about it leading up to this review. Yet who knows how this record will sit with me two or three years from now. Hell, you may find me telling you it is far better than Sea Change, maybe even Mutations, for that matter.

Hell, if you just don’t like this one altogether, fret not as Beck has another LP in the hopper ready to be unleashed, one said to be closer to such more kinetic, Odelay -esque matter as recent one-off 12-inch singles “Defriended” and “Gimme”, not to mention the highlight of his Record Club series that was his take on INXS’s 1987 crossover breakthrough Kick.

So if you are one of those who scoffed at Rolling Stone’s recent four-and-a-half star rating of Morning Phase in the Justin Bieber issue, give it some time. Who knows, in 2017 it just might have earned that near-classic status in your own mind.

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