Beck – Morning Phase (2014)
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.