Beck has always been one of the ultimate musical genre chameleons, swerving from genre to genre from album to album while making it all looks so effortless. Each manifestation throughout his now storied career has shown him as a true sonic master craftsman willing to take the path less travelled. He has become one of my personal “just take my money already damn it” artists every time he has a new release. With “Colors” he continues to be worthy that designation.
On October 13 Beck released his 13th studio album Colors which follows up his Grammy Album of the Year winner 2014’s Morning Phase. That album has set a high water mark creating a great challenge for Beck to match and attempt to surpass. Little surprise it has taken a while to release the next addition to Beck’s magnificent discography. The anticipation for the new release increased exponentially following the rumours last year of a new album ready to go and then the sudden scrubbing of the release. A year later the release of Colors allows that to become water under the bridge.
Colors has been a work in progress spanning from 2013 till earlier this year. It was recorded in co-producer Greg Kurstin’s LA studio with Beck and Kurstin playing nearly every instrument on the recording themselves. The listed producers for the effort are Beck, Greg Kurstin and Cole M. Grief-Neill. An experimental trial and error process was utilized for the recording. Beck was touring a great deal of the time during the recorded and he went back and forth to the studio to try to capture the energy of touring on the release. What results from this effort is sunny upbeat pop that has the undercurrent of a person screaming into the void. It is a kaleidoscopic journey that splits the difference between the ever-present introspection that leaks out of Beck and the simple desire to enjoy life. The real magic trick is Beck and Co’s ability to produce what is really complex multitasking sonics but making them seem so simple and effortless. This allows the listener to skim along the surface of the fantastic beats and uplift or dig into the angst that lingers throughout the lyrics.
Colors is in direct contrast to Morning Phase with both being equally noteworthy but Beck turning from the sombre beauty of Morning Phase into something more boisterous. Where Morning Phase was more solitary, Colors is social and there is a party definitely going on. In all “Colors” sets for its goal the satisfying of a desire Beck has had for a long time; the desire to create the dream setlist for live performance. Colors certainly provides some great tracks that will be wildly popular live. Just about every song on the release quickly could be envisioned as a highlight of any Beck concert performance. The energy of live performance is captured very well throughout the new release. The opener title track Colors is a beat-driven bracing counterpoint to the lyrical beauty of Morning Phase. It is a “forget it all and enjoy” call to arms with Beck actually making the Pan Flute sound cool. Seventh Heaven is like some lost 80’s pop classic which Beck discovered on an archaeological dig. Here Beck shows off his ability to mix in the lyrics his vivid imagery with current popular icons all the while delivering harmonies galore and a fantastic falsetto. It is everything bright and upbeat. I’m Free displays the ethos that you are in fact free no matter what others try to foist upon you. This song has a fantastic rock chorus and reminded me of Weezer and The Shins, again the essence of the track is fun and a driving beat.
Where the first three songs are Beck at an easy gallop, Beck really kicks into sonic high gear with Dear Life a lush Beatlesque piano track. This is a stellar radio friendly song that is an instant earworm. Underneath the entire upbeat vibe is this plaintive desire to be released from fate’s fickle irony. Sod’s law, “Dear life I’m holding on, how long must I wait until the thrill is gone?” Captured is our inevitable turmoil in being alive. No Distractions continues to have that cleverly droll outlook hidden among the funky dance sonics and punchy “Police” like guitar progressions. It makes this song sonic crack; you simply cannot get away from this track once it is heard. It took days for this song to leech out of my brain. Thematically the song looks at how our constant “total access on demand” lives to affect us physically and mentally. The song’s theme has been explained by Beck with the analogy, “These days it’s like somebody has removed the front door of my house permanently.” The song should come with a warning because it is so addictive. Ditto for Dreams, which is anthemic splendour captured in the recording studio. The jangle guitars make for a catchy as hell track and a wondrous pop confection.
Wow was released as a sneak peak last year and I have looked forward to what was going to surround it ever since. This song is very quintessential Beck; harkening back to Odelay but with this mind-expanding sound that shows how much Beck has developed since that era. The wry insight stated is that if everything including pine cleaner is wow maybe the term suddenly conveys no meaning. The infectious Up All Night is a song that will bring a smile to your face it is so likeable. Beck provides an enjoyable slice of escapism with this track. Like so many other songs on the release, it is just what the doctor ordered for the times we are living amidst. The sunfilled Square One brooks no pessimism about life’s detours and new beginnings. The earnest piano and Earth, Wind and Fire stylings accompany Beck as he points out when one door closes another opens, “This is life and you take detours in your life”. The final track Fix Me has more in common with Morning Phase and Sea Change utilizing a more mid-tempo sonic. However, there is still significant uplift and an overall feeling of glorious soaring optimism in the face of our sorry human nature and imperfections.
Colors is not Morning Phase nor is it Odelay but like every release from Beck, it is its own distinct entity. It is identifiably Beck yet again a release that shows off his breathtaking ability to cycle through various genres and make them his own. The energy emanating off these songs could supply the power grid. If you listen closely you can hear the fun Beck had recording this release. Throughout Beck is expressing the simple joy of life recognizing the glass is in fact half full. In this go-round, he has decided to emphasize the half that is there rather than lamenting what is missing. It took awhile for Colors to materialize but the wait was worth it and it is a much-needed antidote to our sour times.