Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Album Review: Beck - Colors

**** out of *****

Beck Hansen has always marched to his own tune and recently his pristinely produced albums have felt dour and cold, but on Colors he dips into 2017 pop/rock via his own rules and warms up to the crowd making his most successful album in decades.

Beck has mentioned that he tried to bring more energy to the studio this go around and it shows. Working with Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Adele, Sia) the two played every instrument and co-produced the effort, Kurstin injected his hit making sensibilities and for better and worse that shows throughout Colors.

The title track is blatantly in this modern day mold with an electronic beat and distant vocals as Beck finds his way to radio/streaming services/ad space friendly. He is also back to enjoying idiosyncratic wordplay which made his lyrics so engaging at the start of his career. “Square One” uses his falsetto singing expertly and “Seventh Heaven” continues the pop motif with pretty 80's inspired soundscapes and Beck-ism’s like “I want to see you/With the pharaoh's curse/The apple flower doggerel/The batteries burst”.

This diving into 2017 dance heavy pop rock fits Beck’s sensibilities well, but it can also be light and airy, disappearing after the track finishes leaving little reason to remember it. First single “Dreams” is grandiose with swirling sounds and deep beats but dissipates quickly while “Up All Night” uses minimalist rhythms and dance ready choruses that sound perfectly made for a luxury car commercial and are disgustingly infectious at the same time.

“Wow” also fits this mode, an upbeat pleasant (if vapid) affair with disco ready digital beats before Beck drops his best stanza on the disk:
Call your wife; secular times, these times
My demon's on the cell phone
To your demons, nothing's even right or wrong
It's irrelevant, elephant in the room goes boom
Standing on the lawn doin' jiu jitsu
Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu
Hinting at a deeper meaning Beck ends it with a vivid nonsense line, just like old times. While that may make you briefly think about Beck’s (and your own) religion/relationships, those thoughts don’t last long as the bubblegum envelopes and sweetly bursts post song. Only on “Fix Me” (the lone song credited solely to Beck) is he more direct, retreating to Morning Phase orchestration which is very out of place on this release.

There are some soaring highs here however heard clearly on two of the best offerings, the rolling piano driven “Dear Life” and the chaotic “I’m So Free”. On “Dear Life” a Beatles influence permeates with upbeat meanderings, cutting electric guitar lines and desperate lyrics. “I’m So Free” is a jumbled mess of strings, rapping, dance laden beats, and piano with garish metal breaks; none of this should work, yet it soars. This genre-in-a-blender approach has always been Beck’s strength and nailing it here (along with Feist’s backup vocals) deepens the level of engagement from listener and artist.

While the album itself feels more like a collection of singles shooting for the charts than a complete piece, it is still the most interesting Beck has sounded in years. There are always two Becks (and Beck fans for that matter) the Sea Change sourpuss and the Mellow Gold freaknick and this album modernizes his sound while leaning thankfully towards the latter.

A mostly light and happy affair, Beck is pointing directly at the mainstream with his most accessible, best and yet most disposable effort in over a decade. Even with the ever present crystalline pop sheen, Colors still retains some depth with lyrical darkness and bizarre stanzas only Beck could come up with. While a level below his career highlights Beck still proves a powerful  voice in today's ever shifting pop landscape, that alone marks this disk a success.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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