Beck is a Scientologist and although what he believes seems to have little bearing on his sound, the ‘beliefs’ seem quite bizarre especially this part (from Wikipedia).
“Scientologists believe that souls (“thetans”) reincarnate and have lived on other planets before living on Earth.”
Well now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the record.
Morning Phase resides in the same realm as Mutations 1998 and 2002’s critically acclaimed Sea Change, both produced by Nigel Godrich – these for me are his most listenable albums. It’s his quiet side, his emotional side, his sincere side that I enjoy the most. Of course it’s the other records that made him famous but it’s admirable when an artist that has had success like his, veers off the path and records an album of contemplative songs rather than attempting to stay on the pulse of the ephemeral hipsters. Ultimately this way of thinking always works, second guessing next weeks trend is a slippery slope and Sea Change might be listened to more often than Mellow Gold 1994 or Odelay 1996, that audience having long discarded their scratched CD’s for adulthood. Still he’s one of those artists that both the critics or the public warm to (if not at the same time) somehow despite lesser sales than his previous album (Odelay) Mutations won a grammy. Beck’s eclecticism – sampled cacophony to acoustic musings has increased his musical life span.
It’s the easy sway of the opener on Morning Phase that draws you in, a short wash of synthesizer (Cycle) leads into Morning perhaps the most relaxed opener on a record in living memory, but that’s his skill. Effortless and moody, a beautiful melody and exquisite falsetto takes you away before you’ve had time to get comfy in your favourite chair and settle down with the cat, a cup of tea and your feet on the hearth. It’s his heady mixture of Nick Drake and Pink Floyd that seduces you, illustrated clearly on Round The Bend from Sea Change and Nobody’s Fault But My Own from Mutations and unlike Jonathan Wilson he takes the essence of influence without being caught red handed. This soft strum may also have a touch of contemporary inspiration from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes in a spare, undeniably intoxicating brew. Spacey harmonies appear and disappear over muted drums like 10cc got in the studio with Woody Woodmansey.
The hybrid Vernon/Drake returns on Heart Is A Drum and creates a foot tapping Simon and Garfunkel for the 21st century. The drums are so warm you could almost make toast, the piano tinkles away as the song softly drifts into the ether, you can see it shimmering in the distance.
Say Goodbye takes Steve Miller’s The Joker and makes a lesser song, unfortunately it’s early on the record and for me it’s the only track on the album that doesn’t quite make it.
Blue Moon carries on with the acoustic organics and dry drums. The reverbs and the effects are saved for the backing vocals – it’s an interesting idea – make the instruments and lead vocal dry and embellish with spacey background harmonies and sounds. It’s painting with music, a bright yellow line on a blank white canvas.
Unforgiven sounds like Woody Woodmansey is back with the drums from Five Years (Ziggy Stardust) and a phased piano and this time with a reverby lead vocal. This is Beck doing what I like the best, a low key entrancing melodic song with drums that sound like baguettes on a tea towel covered snare and bass drum but on a spaceship. It’s this contrast between the stars and the Earth that seduces you.
Don’t Let It Go has a convincing emotional vocal but it’s actually the tempo of the song that entices you. Beck seems to have found a place, a glade where time stands still where it’s an eternity between breaths, between the last and the next time that the drum stick falls on the skin.
Blackbird Chain is the album’s most intriguing title and I don’t get what it means. Some fifties/sixties guitar redolent of James Calvin Wilsey (Wicked Game).
Phase returns to the mood opening track, a short string reprise before Turn Away that returns to Simon and Garfunkel and Bon Iver’s beauty and back again with those lovely spacey, harmonising, ethereal backing vocals.
Lofty strings introduce what might have been a Scott Walker melody on Wave – it’s beautiful. Antony Hegarty might have been glad to find this song or perhaps it would suit David Sylvian’s unique voice.
Back down to Earth with Country Down, the cat is now stretched out on it’s back, dreaming of cat pedal steel and cat harmonica, occasionally twitching. I can’t imagine how Beck would play this album live, it’s just so intimate, so soothing and delicate, so soft and sensuous.
The album closes with Waking Light and I’m dying for more tea, herbal tea with honey but I really don’t want to disturb the cat, I haven’t the heart to wake him from his dream and then I realise that the album finished hours ago and that the two of us have been kept here in a welcome reverie, re-living the sweetest moments of the album, intoxicated, purring into eternity embraced by the thetans.
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