Set Your Morning Phasers to Stun

Morning Phase
Capitol, 2014

by Josh Kohan

Received by critics all over as an unofficial “sequel” to Beck’s stellar and refreshingly honest 2002 album, Sea Change, this follow-up brings Beck back to his folk roots. Once again exchanging his turntable for an acoustic guitar, Morning Phase marks another chapter in Beck’s brilliant and eclectic career. But now let’s throw aside this Sea Change resurrection reception because like all of Beck’s music, he pushes the envelope further, defying categorization. Sure – it’s slower, less “abstract,” and easier to digest then his most recent albums, but it is by no means a retread of his classic 2002 album. The songs on Morning Phase are intense, harmonic, beautiful; and most of all, original in their familiarity. This is what separates Beck from his contemporaries, and what sets apart Morning Phase from the rest of his storied catalog, including Sea Change.
Opener “Cycle” sets the album’s tone; reprisals of conversant themes, arrangements, and orchestrations from Sea Change, but like any cycle, starting anew once again. Beck is paying homage to nostalgia, and by doing so, you are also transported back to the times when you were listening to his older albums. It is on this first song where Beck sings, “Won’t you show me the way it used to be/ We’ve gone all around/ Till there’s nothing left to say/ We wore it all down.” It is at this moment when the listener may feel like Beck has given up. There is no more good music that hasn’t been done all before. But it is here, where the tempo changes and Beck adds, “Can we start it all over again? This morning?” Rejuvenation or Rebirth? It doesn’t matter – it’s awesome.
Song two, “Morning,” a musical interlude takes us into “Heart is a Drum.” This is one of the finest songs on Morning Phase; although song four “Say Goodbye,” is perhaps just as good. “Say Goodbye” is instantly notable for its brutally vivid capturing of those moments falling out of love when you realize there aren’t that many words to say when the “On my back / and she’s gone” moment arises.
Then, right in the middle of the album, Beck puts in the radio-friendly “Blue Moon,” one of the most perfect songs he has ever written. Insanely listenable, “Blue Moon” could be his finest track to date.

The proceeding songs that close out the second half of the album each offer their own honest and incredibly creative moments. Standouts vary each time I listen. Today, I played “Don’t Let It Go” on repeat. Yesterday, I was hooked on “Turn Away” where Beck sings “Turn. Turn away/ From the sound of your own voice.” And we understand that Beck tries hard, almost too hard, to be an artist who can’t be defined. Ironically, Morning Phase is his most user-friendly record, but it is arguably his most sincere.
As “Cycle” is the ideal first song on Morning Phase, closer “Waking Light” is the ultimate culmination. Beck finishes the album with these lyrics: “When the morning comes to meet you/Fill your eyes with waking light.” For an artist who has defied musical conventions for over two decades; ironically his finest moments come when he is being the most straight-forward. It is with this acceptance that his music gains more freedom; and that freedom is the power that drives all of Beck’s music.

3 thoughts on “Set Your Morning Phasers to Stun

  1. I admire Beck’s ability to casually shift from one character to another in all of his releases to date, and I respect his choice to put out a straight-forward, personal record with Morning Phases – but I am the Beck listener who waits for the likes of Odelay or Mutations because I prefer to be audience to his eclectic energy, not so much the soulful strolling you’ve described in your article. This was a great read, and indicates to fans of Beck’s more laid-back personality why Morning Phases would be for them, but it’s just not for me!

  2. Thanks Mike, I agree. I think that Beck’s fan base is divided between the Sea Change/Morning Phases listeners and the Odelay/Mutations listeners. I am obviously of the former although I do like the other more “artsty/weird” stuff as well – just not as much. I am big fan of Beck’s folk roots. And I dig his honestly in his songwriting on this album.

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