Break My Heart for a Change
I'll start this review with some Words of Wisdom that Beck likes to repeat: "Ain't a DAMN thing funny about..." (you fill in the blank).
I will: Ain't a damn thing funny about "Sea Change." Beck has momentarily tired of playing the jester. Fair enough, who could blame him? He balks at performing crowd-pleasers "Satan Gave Me a Taco" or "Steve Threw Up" no matter how much fans loudly plead at concerts. Beck's a big boy now and he wrote those silly songs a long time ago. We can dig it. Let's move on. Well, okay--he got a little silly on "Midnite Vultures." But it was a slicker, artsier, more GROWN UP silly and it was even about sex by gawd. Plus you could dance to it.
But now we're talking about the big H and I don't mean THAT big H; I'm talking about HEARTBREAK, baby. This album is about having the life squeezed out of you by lost love. Unfortunately most of the songs got the life squeezed out of them in the process. We've all loved and lost and a few well-crafted, poignant songs about getting your guts kicked out by the one you love is fine, even welcome. An entire album of crying in your beer is another thing. But don't get the wrong idea; "Sea Change" is not country music and it's not the blues, genres to which Beck's no stranger. It's Beck's own brand of re-bottled folk. We'll dub it GOTH FOLK.
First the too-easy comparisons: Elton John's "Madman Across the Water" (hear David Campbell's lush Buckmaster-ish strings on "Paper Tiger") or Nick Drake's "River Man" (listen to Beck's "Round the Bend"). "Little One" could have been a Nirvana outtake. Once you're past the apparent influences, the songs themselves seem haunted and sad and sometimes weak. Even Beck's remake of his old song "All In Your Mind" seems emptier with it's new spit-and-polish shine. The tone throughout is thoughtful, almost brooding. Lost chances, lonesome tears, despair. You wait for the ray of sunshine or a slight upbeat but the last track ends and there is neither, unless you count the noisy claptrap ending of "Sunday Sun." If you've been diagnosed with suicidal tendencies avoid this CD. No joke.
Beck Hansen has a sweet way with a melody and a fiendish sense of wordplay, he's proven it time and again on "Odelay" and "Mutations" to name a few. He can be sheer genius. And that knowledge makes "Sea Change" frustrating listening. You won't hear the delicate beauty of "Dead Melodies" from his "Mutations" album. You won't hear the lyrical textures. Tunes that are meant to be low-key instead border on forgettable. Lyrics hoping for simplicity sound frightenly unadorned and bland after a previous diet of Beck's fanciful poetry. Wearing your heart on your sleeve and being emotionally upfront after tiptoeing around your feelings with clever cryptic lyrical landscapes may not be what Beck does best after all if "Sea Change" is an example of that openess. But could it be what the public is hungry for after all the spinning zebra-headed banjo-playing robots?
The emotional candor and simplicity may be a breath of fresh air for some Beck fans. He has always dabbled in it in the past with songs such as "Nobody's Fault But My Own" and b-sides like "One of These Days." Perhaps Beck released "Sea Change" as an appeasement for those who couldn't stomach the ambiguously sexy & soulful sonics of "Midnite Vultures."
To give credit where credit is due "Already Dead" and "Lost Cause" boast nice melodies with an exhausted-sounded vocal delivery: "this town is crazy/nobody cares/baby you're lost/baby you're a lost cause/I'm tired of fighting/fighting for a lost cause."
Of course as they say, opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one. Listen and make your own judgement. You may love "Sea Change." It's got four, count 'em FOUR different CD covers to choose from. Buy it. Don't be an anarchist jerk and simply download it. Support the artists you love even if it means the Evil Record Company gets their cut. Better yet, maybe everyone who downloads the album should be on the honor system, mail ten bucks to someone in charge of "The Artistic Continuation of Beck Fund" then that person can present a check to Beck personally every six months. Hey, it could work. I volunteer for the job.
- Deborah, "The Beck Site"