After listening to “Morning Phase” almost fifty times, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it. Even if you listen to popular music all day, every day, you don’t get many albums like this in your lifetime.
Sure, Jones typically has horrible taste and is usually wrong, but the hyperbole peaked our interest. Here’s what NPR has to say about this Scientologist’s latest:
The thumbnail summary already circulating for Beck’s 12th full-length album goes like this: It’s a sequel to Sea Change, the brooding 2002 record frequently mentioned as his masterpiece.
This is useful, to a point, for placing Morning Phase in a general neighborhood. But, like so many descriptors flying around, it doesn’t convey much about the work itself — especially since “sequel” is often shorthand for “copy,” which this most certainly is not. To get a sense of the latest turns in Beck’s journey, go directly to “Wave,” one of several pieces from Morning Phase built on the entrancing string orchestrations of David Richard Campbell, the singer-songwriter’s father. Here, you’ll find no conventional strumming, no weepy pedal-steel guitar, no drums at all — just low strings droning in support of a disconsolate, almost detached vocal. Through the somber haze comes a melody defined by strangely upturned half-steps, culminating in unsettling repetitions of the word “isolation,” over and over.
“Wave” has little in common with what most think of as pop music — and, for that matter, with what most think of as Beck music. Even those who know Sea Change will be surprised by the song’s stark sense of drama. In a recent All Songs Considered interview, Beck describes the long interval between Morning Phase and 2008’s Modern Guilt as a process of rediscovery. He was contending with personal issues, including a serious back injury that prevented him from performing, and when he found it difficult to write for himself, he devoted his energy to covers of classic records and writing for other artists (his 2012 Song Reader, the sheet-music folio, is one byproduct). It took him a long time to develop the new album, he says, because he’d been challenging himself to write in different ways — and didn’t always believe that the results were worth sharing.
Ok, now we’re gonna go give Morning Phase a listen. And if you didn’t know he’s a Scientologist, well, we’re sorry we ruined that for you.