Beck has never been one for conforming to expectations. His long awaited comeback was heralded as possibly setting a new standard in genre-splicing inventiveness, with his recent stylistically varied records coming to an appropriate head. Morning Phase isn’t that record; instead, it harkens back to the soft structure of 2002’s Sea Change and remains in that ballpark throughout. Their similar musical approaches become clear in the strong acoustic melodies and ethereal keyboard work that binds both records. However, in Morning Phase, his focus appears to be in creating a dreamy, subdued psychedelia, downplaying any of Sea Change’s rock influences. Indeed, his vastly improved technical prowess and production skills are what set the standard in his musical growth. Despite the sonic similarities between the two albums, lyrically, they are miles apart. Sea Change’s straightforward picture of the desolation of romance falling apart has been superseded by emotionally ambiguous neutrality. Instead of youthful peaks and troughs, his sense of renewal and maturity create a less risky, more plaintive album. Indeed, at its worst, it can be downtrodden by overly rich production and mid tempo wistfulness. ‘Say Goodbye’ could have potentially been lovely if it wasn’t so listless and languishing in contemplation. However, tracks like ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Turn Away’ are glorious revelations on life experience and are in turn, complemented by the oak-y reverb of the production. His musical journey almost feels as personal as it is universal in its picture of adulthood. Recovering from a back injury so severe he couldn’t pick up a guitar for years, the album’s theme of struggling towards the light resonate on levels he’s never previously explored. A well realised concept; Morning Phase succeeds only if you appreciate what it sets out to do.
[Dom MacInnes]

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