Morning Phase: Beck’s Sea Change Sequel


Beck - Morning Phase

Beck – Morning Phase

It took one listen to come up with a nutshell description of Morning Phase: “a warmer Sea Change.”

For those not familiar with Sea Change – it was released by Beck in 2002. It was inspired by his break up with his fiancée. It’s often considered one of Beck’s best and most sincere album. If you don’t have it, get it.

See? Change.

See? Change. (I’m so sorry. -Dylan)

It’s impossible to listen to Morning Phase without thinking of Sea Change. The album has a tight, cohesive sound. The music is provided by actual instrumentation, not samples. There is no rapping. Both albums open on more or less the same chord.

Indeed, Beck himself has touted the Morning Phase a companion piece to Sea Change. Much of the talent that worked on Sea Change has returned for this album. It feels like both albums were two parts of a double album released over a decade apart. If Sea Change is the break up, Morning Phase is accepting the loneliness.

This is one of Beck’s more sonically pleasing albums – it can be listened to at any volume for any degree of time.  It is a stark contrast to his more chaotic albums like Odelay that are musically diverse but difficult to listen to in one full play. Morning Phase begs to be listened to in one sitting – the songs are so smooth they need to be heard all at once.

The album features an open, ambient sound – somewhere between the Plastic Ono Band and dream pop. There’s also an intangible Neil Young influence, keeping with Beck’s anti-folk roots. The quantity of lyrics varies from song to song, but they permeate each track just as much as the music itself. Sometimes it’s not even about the words – it’s about the sound of the words. Morning Phase has no intention of showcasing any one instrument – there are no guitar solos, drum solos, or any other kind of solo. It’s about the full experience. You don’t just listen – you practically swim through the sound.

Thematically, the album deals with loneliness, isolation, and dealing with lingering memories. Maybe. This is Beck we’re talking about, the reigning King of Ironic Lyrics. It could be months before any of us understand what he’s trying to say here. Maybe years – has anyone fully figured out Odelay yet?

In typical Beck fashion, however, some of the songs have a sound diametrically opposed to their lyrics. The somewhat tragic lyrics are often put to optimistic tones and instrument. Perhaps the best example of this is the first single released from this album, “Blue Moon.”

The lyrics to “Blue Moon” describe how Beck feels trapped in his loneliness and how he doesn’t want someone to leave him. Yet the music sounds almost cheerful. He’s begging someone to accept him after he betrayed them (“see the turncoat on his knees,”) but both the music and his vocals display some kind of happiness. I suppose this was his first single because Beck likes reminding people that he’s a professional enigma.

In the end, the album’s greatest strength and weakness is it’s connection to Sea Change. Morning Phase is independently enjoyable, but it sounds so much like Sea Change that it’s almost a slave to it. Beck is known for his lack of predictability, and making an album that sounds like one of his best known almost feels like a cop-out – especially with recent revelation that he shelved a country album in favor of this. Who wouldn’t want to hear a Beck country album? Beck is far from the first artist to make a sequel album with a similar sound over a decade later – call it Meat Loafing – but he’s the kind of artist who’s made a living on sounding different, and this isn’t different. Good, but not different.

Again, though, that doesn’t mean the album isn’t enjoyable. It’s a lovely album for both Beck die-hards and casual listeners. However, it was meant as a companion piece to Sea Change and should be listened to as such.

I’d recommend pairing Morning Phase up with Sea Change and listening to them back-to-back.

Morning Phase is available now in stores and digitally.

Post By David Lebovitz (48 Posts)

Pronounced Lee-BO-its. Basically a Rick Moranis character without the glasses. Imaginary late night talk show host. Has a degree in something called "communications."