My friend and I stood leaning over the front barrier at Beck’s surprise performance at the Hollywood Palladium in February as his newest single “Wow” faded out. Having been preceded by the wildly bizarre and funky “Mixed Bizness” from his fourth and much more characteristic album Midnite Vultures, “Wow” sounded more like the musical equivalent of the Snapchat rainbow vomit filter than it did a Beck Hansen song. Rather than belting odd-ball lyrics about “sports-illustrated moms” or insisting we “get crazy with the cheez-whiz,” Beck’s attempt at a mainstream, feel-good pop single left my friend with only one explanation.
“I get it now—he’s going through a mid-life crisis.”
Such was my attitude leading up to the release of the forty-seven-year old’s tenth studio album Colors, his first since the 2014 Album of the Year Morning Phase. Following the social media outrage over Beck edging out Beyoncé’s self-titled album at the Grammy’s, it appeared as if Beck would continue to do what he has done for more than two decades: avoid the limelight and record music that pushes the limits of how alternative rock can sound. Always one to stray from the mainstream by incorporating a healthy cocktail of folk, hip-hop, rock (and occasionally mariachi) in his work, Beck instead sounds desperate to be featured on a Top 40 Summer Hits playlist with his newest album—a dramatic shift from the stunningly ethereal and acoustic sounds from Morning Phase.
While fans of Beck’s quirky lyricism might, at times, feel let down (after all, rhyming “wow” with “now” five times in a chorus hardly feels groundbreaking), there are still glimpses of his eccentricity in “Seventh Heaven” and “I’m So Free.” Generally speaking, however, Colors has a catchy, dance-inducing, repetitiveness that, as Beck puts it “makes you glad to be alive.” The album’s energy feels less like a middle-aged father grasping for recognition late in his career (as my friend and I both initially expected) and more like yet another genre for Beck to experiment with, requiring hours of layering and perfecting. Old-school Beck fans will undoubtedly gloss over Colors, citing its lack of originality and how much of an egregious “Can’t Stop the Feeling” rip-off “Up All Night” truly is, but behind the misty, up-beat pan flutes there still lie some gems.
The first single off Colors, “Dreams,” which was released back in June 2015, will no doubt come as a shock for most Beck fans expecting the laid-back west coast vibe of the native Angelino, but those looking to reminisce about their early teenage years when the summery sounds of Foster the People dominated their playlists will surely enjoy this up-tempo song.
“Fix Me,” the album’s penultimate song, feels like a B-side from his previous record in its richness of tone and airy vocals, yet it lacks the melancholy tone of Morning Phase that would allow it to stand out as one of the more beautiful and penetrating songs from the album.
To classify Colors (or Beck’s entire discography, for that matter) by a single genre is to overlook the chameleonic nature of his entire career. Beck even explained, “If I turned on pop radio right now, I wouldn’t say this was a pop record;” rather, what he found in recording the album was a “renewed appreciation and affection for playing music and the relationship with the audience, the joy of being together.” Ultimately, Colors is Beck reminding himself to get lost in what he loves to do: to inspire us all to get crazy with the cheez-whiz.
Photo Credit: SPIN