Saturday, 22 February 2014

Beck - Morning Phase (2014)

Beck, 'Blue Moon'

Info: Bek (yup) David Campbell began playing music at the age of 19, improvising on city buses in New York, heavily influenced by country and Delta Blues. The son of David Campbell, a classical composer and conductor, and Bibbi Hansen, a visual artist and former Warhol superstar (a group of New York personalities that Andy Warhol promoted throughout the 1960's and 70's), who fitted Warhol's idea that "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes". 

Beck found himself among the anti-folk scene in New York in the early 90's, while his sound was essentially acoustic, he was very much experimental and this would become most apparent with his breakthrough in the mid-90's, starting with the single 'Loser' which propelled him into the spotlight, at a time when the MTV generation was peaking before collapsing. Who would have thought it would end up as it is today, starting with reality TV show The Real World, and meandering through the likes of The Osborne's, The Hills etc. and today Catfish 24/7, as Dire Straits sang in 'Money For Nothing', "I Want My MTV". I recall 'Loser' and very shortly afterwards 'Devil's Haircut', 'New Pollution' and 'Where It's At' from the album Odelay on the station constantly in the mid-90's, it was an album that broke him free from the tag of a one-hit wonder after 'Loser'.

From then on Beck's output slowed slightly but he still released the better than decent Mutations album before what was possibly the peak of his creative talents, 2002's Sea Change. One of my favourite albums Guero came in 2005 before the mish-mash of Modern Guilt, which is my favourite 'not great' Beck album, finally leading us to yesterday's release, Morning Phase.

Having listened to Beck for the guts of half my life I often think, going back to the MTV days again, when you had Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Eric Clapton on the wonderful Live Unplugged sessions, are we in a place now, musically, where we get fleeting 'stars' and one-off 'classic' albums? I'm reminded of The Strokes' - Is This It?, how the Kings of Leon went from an incredible debut album a decade ago to consistent complete dross. I suppose we went from the icons of the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's who lasted more than one decade before tailing off (not always), and so it's rare in the second decade of the 21st century that you find someone who has been producing great music since the end of the previous century, Beck falls into this category and Morning Phase has put a wax seal on his reputation in my view.

Enough platitudes regarding the man's career, now to the album itself, "Finally!" Beck made the new album available online 4 weeks before it's release and I think I've listened to it on average once every 2 days since, sometimes three times a day. For me it's the first album he has released that is flawless from opening to finish, there is no point where you feel even a minor urge to skip a track or move along, it's like one beautiful 47 minute track where you are lost and floating on your back on Lake Beck.

The second track following the intro, 'Morning' exudes calm and a hazy drug-induced feeling of numbness that starts with a gorgeous opening salvo; 'Woke up this morning, from a long night in the storm, looked up this morning, saw the roses full of thorns, mountains are falling, they don't have nowhere to go, the ocean's a diamond, that only shines when you're alone'.

My personal (that second word means it's only my opinion and you can't make an official complaint) favourite is the above video / track, 'Blue Moon', the lines 'See the turncoat on his knees, the vagabond that no one sees, when the moon is throwing shadows, you can't see the wounds you caught in battle', from sombre beginnings this track will bring you back to happiness by it's end. Other tracks are the highly recommended 'Wave' which initially reminded me of Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song' from Amnesiac, and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was a bit of a rip-off, until I found out that the string composition in the song was actually the work of none other than Beck's father, David Campbell, amazing to see work from decades previous being resurrected like this.

It's a flawless album, and probably the best I've heard in at least 10 years, granted I haven't heard every album released  in that time, and it all boils down to taste, but Morning Phase is the classic album I always hope I'll find, and very rarely do, a poor return in general, but it's paid off here and then some.

N.B. Plug in your headphones, find a place alone, and listen to 'Wave' below

Beck 'Wave'

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