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Beck: ‘Colors’ (album review)

Colors, the new album from Beck, shouldn’t work.  On first listen it doesn’t, especially if you’re a fan of the artist, or just casually followed along with his career.

Living up to the album’s name, this is easily Beck’s most colorful creation.  It’s steeped in pop-music structure, especially fitting in with a lot of what’s working today. Yet, on second listen, and third, and so on, it’s less Bruno Mars and more Beck.

Layered (often) under electronic loops and drum machines, are multi-recorded vocal harmonies straight out of the California folk scene, strumming acoustic guitars, and honkytonk piano chords.

The album’s first track, the titular Colors, plunges you into what you’re about to experience.

I’ll find you and go right through walls we made begins the first track, which is a completely solid, fairly danceable song that playfully builds to a robo-chorus of Becks.  He leads into a simple question: tell me, do you feel alive? 

Alive is the theme here, even in the next track Seventh Heaven an upbeat, again danceable track, ironically claiming Beck’s now dead to the world in the seventh heaven of a complicated relationship. Musically the track channels the most upbeat output from French rockers Phoenix.

Don’t be thrown off by the sugar pop streak the album continues on, because it only gets stronger.  Tracks like No Distraction, Up All Night and Wow are increasingly catchy on repeat listens, though initially off-putting in their manifest optimism.

When he last left us, Beck’s morose Morning Phase had made its way onto a number of “best of” album lists from critics, including #1 from Mojo.  The album went on to win both Best Rock Album and Album of the Year Grammy Awards in 2015.

Colors shouldn’t come as a surprise to Beck fans.  The musician dropped the first single from the album, Dreams, in June of 2015.  The track was immediately used in commercials, and praised by music critics for its epic approach to the otherwise throwaway Summer single.

“I was really trying to make something that would be good to play live,” said Beck at the time to radio station Alt 98.7 in Los Angeles.  Billboard praised the single as “funky” claiming “it’s official: fun Beck is back.”  Beck also went on to claim the then untitled Colors would be “probably be the opposite of Morning Phase.”

Beck does leave listeners with the least colorful track on his thirteenth album Fix Me, which could have been the pop-iest track on Morning Sound.

My only complaint is that the album is a tad too short.  Short and sweet, but nevertheless short.  I’m a fan of artists trying new things.  Most of my desert island discs are those types of albums, like Sgt. Pepper from The Beatles to The Sun and the Moon Complete from The Bravery. Beck, however, has mixed things up in the past, and I think his 1999 release Midnite Vultures is a better album than Colors because it’s so less professional and overthought.

What Colors might accomplish for the singer-songwriter is a younger audience that had no idea who he was as he walked past Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake, Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé to accept his Grammy award.

 

FUN FACTS ABOUT COLORS

  • The album was produced by Greg Kurstin, Grammer award winning producer of Adele’s 25, Sia’s Chandelier and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger.
  • Beck and Kurstin play most of the instruments on the album, recorded in Los Angeles between 2013 and 2017.
  • Critics have cited the album’s inspiration as being “Beatles-like psychedella” (Q), and “partly cribbed from the Police” (The New York Times), while Slant finds the album “jumbled and trite.”
  • It’s not a coincidence that the album sounds like other alt-pop acts. Beck explained in an interview after the release of Dreams that “we’ve been playing with so many of these bands, everybody from Phoenix to Daft Punk.  MGMT did their first tour on the first album with [us].
  • Never say Beck doesn’t stay up all night on trends. His Vevo channel released a Colors video featuring the title track visualized to hands in very colorful slime.

 

COLORS by BECK is available on LP, CD, Cassette
and Digital Download now
from Capitol Records

 

 

 

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