2) oh, good – I love that record. If it is anywhere near as good, I will love it to bits.
And while it carries nowhere near the emotional gravitas that the album it is intended to accompany possesses, I still reckon it is an enjoyable and worthy set of songs. But – have you queered the pitch indelibly by stating an album’s intent so expressly?
Yes and no, I reckon. Clearly, sonically, Morning Phase inhabits very much the same sonic and emotional landscape as Sea Change – big reverbs, deep, resonant singing that is reminiscent of Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, tempos that very rarely move at more than a patient, diplodocus-like plod, acoustic guitars and low swoops of strings (arranged by Beck’s father, David Campbell). It sounds both luscious and lovely. Take, for instance, the opening Morning, which starts out sounding virtually identical to Sea Change’s opener The Golden Age. The drums are virtually the same, the melody is similar, and the arrangement is a very close cousin.
Does it matter that it isn’t doing much by way of breaking new ground? I don’t think so. Just as Paul McCartney revisited the quirky experimentation of the McCartney album on 1981’s McCartney II (albeit in an updated, electronic style), or as Neil Young replayed Harvest with Harvest Moon (and, for that matter Silver And Gold), I reckon the revised “album in the style of” is totally valid for long-term, career artists – almost inevitable, in fact. Surely it is much more important that an album is good, and enjoyable, than it is that an artist is breaking entirely new ground every time they create new music.
That said, there must be some reservations. While it is a gorgeous listen – all pillowy reverbs and sumptuous textures – there is a slight feeling of the lyrics and melodies being a little throwaway; a bit of an afterthought to the otherwise brilliant idea of recreating a much-loved earlier effort. “These are the words we use, to say goodbye” trills Beck on the perfunctory Say Goodbye. It always feels a little distanced, a little arch and knowing. Wave is by no means the match of its closest predecessor, Round The Bend. Maybe the thing that people loved about Sea Change (a lot of people’s favourite Beck record – either that or Mutations) was that it seemed like the cold fish, the chameleon, was finally letting his guard down.
Here it feels a little like he is re-donning the masks.
There is nothing here that captures the real emotional depths of gorgeous Sea Change tracks like Lost Cause (“was that what you thought love was for?”) or Lonesome Tears (“…I can’t cry them anymore”) – an album rumoured to have been inspired by his fading relationship with Hollywood star Winona Ryder. And surely it’s hard for a songwriter to recapture that sorrow, if that’s not really where you are at – it seems like this album’s primary inspiration was his own physical frailty (Beck has suffered from debilitating back pain). Sometimes it just feels a bit like the knowingly melancholic tunes seem to slide off the top of this gloriously shiny, highly buffed, determinedly lustrous music.
But hell – this record coming out doesn’t stop Sea Change from existing, or you from being able to listen to it. I have played Morning Phase a lot, and there is a lot to love here, (even if it is not quite the match of its forbear) if you just surrender and go with it.