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Review: Beck's Sea Change

By ghackmann in Op-Ed
Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 03:53:20 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

Beck, once infamous for the quantity -- if not always the quality -- of his releases (with 4 full albums in 2 years, including the critically-acclaimed and commercial success Odelay), has certainly taken his time in preparing Sea Change, his first new release since 1999's Midnite Vultures. Sadly, the mixed critical and commercial reactions to his past two albums may relegate Sea Change to the realm of has-been releases; which is a shame, as it is one of the most compelling releases so far this year.

Make no mistake; I have never, until now, been much of a fan of Beck's work, until a friend convinced me to give Sea Change a listen. And the album is certainly no misnomer; Beck's sometimes-indulgent need to stretch across every possible musical genre has been greatly curbed, resulting in a minimalistic yet starkly elegant bluesy-folk rock sound.

That's not to say Beck has abandoned his electronic toys entirely this time around -- many of the album's songs show tweaking with echo and some background sound effects -- but thankfully he leaves the album without a repeat of the ingratiatingly-fratboyish "Where It's At" or "Loser". His acoustic guitar and voice clearly take the forefront here, and for good reason. Whereas electronic turntable recordings are dime-a-dozen nowadays, true singing and instrumental talent are precious commodities in popular music, and Beck reveals a surprising prowess in both.

Among the album's strongest tracks are "Lost Cause", where Beck's usual electronic experimentation underlies elegant guitar craftsmanship and haunting vocal work, and the mostly-instrumental "Round the Bend", where Beck masterfully weaves the few muddied vocals and quiet strumming into the now-clichéd orchestra-and-string accompaniment. Unfortunately, Beck does include the obligatory rocker: "Paper Tiger", the album's second track, feels unsurprisingly out-of-place; nevertheless, it does little overall to mar to Sea Change's majesty. This is truly worthy praise for an artist once known for simultaneous breadth but lack of depth, a tendency he has avoided for the better on Sea Change.

Often, this kind of minimalism and sudden shift in the aural landscape either makes or breaks a group's career -- while Nirvana's posthumous Unplugged in New York is widely-regarded as one of their best works (no mean feat from the group behind the seminal Nevermind and In Utero), Pearl Jam never quite recovered from the misstep of No Code. For his part, Beck pulls this one off with amazing bravado; sadly, it is unlikely Sea Change will propel him to the same heights as Odelay, as this is easily his finest work yet, and (along with The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) one of the few albums from the past few months that I heartily recommend.

(Side note: the Beck Web site includes a streaming copy of Sea Change in its entirety [click the Beck logo -- free registration required, but bogus info works], so K5 readers whose interest I have piqued can listen for themselves before buying.)


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Related Links
o Beck
o Odelay
o Sea Change
o Midnite Vultures
o Unplugged in New York
o Nevermind
o In Utero
o Pearl Jam
o No Code
o The Flaming Lips
o Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
o a streaming copy of Sea Change in its entirety
o Also by ghackmann

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Review: Beck's Sea Change | 55 comments (21 topical, 34 editorial, 0 hidden)
we should also take the opportunity (5.00 / 3) (#15)
by SocratesGhost on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 12:51:52 PM EST

to MLP to Deconstructing Beck by Illegal Art. These guys are testing the waters of copyright and fair use by using only Beck samples to make an entire album. They are literally hoping they will be sued by the record company, but as yet, no lawyer has filed any papers even though the Illegal Art guys keep asking them to be taken to court. They've heard a lot of legal bluster, though.

Their argument is that collage is a legitimate artwork in the visual world and the same should be the same in the audio world as well.

I drank what?

Deconstructing Beck (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 10:45:21 PM EST

Rumor has it that Beck likes what they are doing, and doesn't want to sue.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
And... (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by gidds on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 06:21:52 PM EST

...that would stop the record company from suing because...?

Seriously, they always claim that they have to sue to protect their trademark, even if they don't disapprove of a particular use, as otherwise it'll get "diluted".  Why should copyright be any different?

[ Parent ]

Because it is different (none / 0) (#47)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 07:12:57 PM EST

There's no such thing as copyright dilution. Beck (or his label) could choose not to enforce the copyright, and still retain control of his work.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
surely... (none / 0) (#50)
by blisspix on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 09:56:17 PM EST

the people that beck samples from could sue since one could assume that the usage of copyrighted material by a third party that didn't get clearance is an infringement?

so lots of people would have grounds for action, no?

my fave sample is still 'what about those who swing both ways, AC/DCs'

[ Parent ]

how do you know they didn't? (none / 0) (#54)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Sep 29, 2002 at 11:43:30 PM EST

much modern commercial music is copyrighted by about five companies. I wouldn't be the least surprised to find that they give blanket permission to their rivals for samples since they can also take samples too, and yet, deny this authorization from any small new publishing houses to deny them entry into the market. Of course, that's just theorizing.

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Sea the Same (4.16 / 6) (#30)
by anaesthetica on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 08:47:13 PM EST

It seems that in-between Beck's loud frenetic albums he likes to put out a folky back-to-my-roots album (or perhaps it's the other way around). In any case, this is the folky album following Midnight Vultures, and it is quite good.

It differs from other folky Beck albums such as Stereopathic Soul Manure, One Foot in the Grave, and Mutations in the level of production. If you notice, Beck worked with the same producer on Sea Change as he did on Mutations and that is noticable. The folk albums before Mutations sound as if they weren't produced at all.

Where Sea Changes differs from from Mutations is the type of production (sticks mostly with piano & strings) and the extent to which it comprises the song. Sea Changes lets the produced bits take a much more central role in the songs.

But while the guitar, drums and bass are reigned in, the lyrics/vocals are much more pronounced. not in a yelling screaming way. It's a much more personal album and the lyrics aren't the usual blatant nonsensical rhyming that usually dominates Beck's albums. And i think that's what makes this album such a landmark (and if i may make such a brash comparison: it's reminiscent of the point in the Beatles career--Rubber Soul--when they realized they didn't have to sing about imaginary love situations, and could write songs about how they felt).

It is a very good album. That being said, I still think Odelay is his best, and I like Beck's constant experimentation with different genres. Now that he's demonstrated that he can make an album with lyrical and songwriting depth I hope he will do the same for his next funk/electronic/rock/hip-hop/folk release.

—I'm the little engine that didn't.
k5: our trolls go to eleven

I see. (none / 0) (#45)
by tkatchev on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 04:58:17 PM EST

Coming up: "What I did on my summer vacation".

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

sorry (4.80 / 5) (#31)
by yankeehack on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 08:48:37 PM EST

I have to comment, only because I am a child of 1992, and nothing else.

I just find it highly ironic that you're finding BECK, of all artists, "ingratiatingly-fratboyish". No offense, but with the vehement exception of British artists, the music of the late 80s SUCKED and sucked hard, much like the cheerleader in back of the football team's bus. I was there. I listened to "Ice, Ice, Baby" in the station wagon my parents let me use.

Anyway, my point is that I wouldn't go and dismiss BECK easily. To be completely serious with you in my 28 year old way (do the math to figure out how old I was) when Pearl Jam and Nirvana arrived, they were really different from the crap (not unlike today) that was rained down upon us. Beck (I know that there are earlier releases, but anyway) came to popularity when people were bored.

It's fine to not like BECK, but realize that he was indeed an "alternative" at one time. I will not go into the vagaries of fratboy music tastes at this point, but please realize that it **is sexy to have greek letters on your sweatshirt, to wear your cap backwards and to shave your chest hair.

I'm waging my own war against terror. I'm nuking all articles about terrorism, why the US shouldn't go into Iraq, why Bush/Ashcroft/Wolfowitz/etc.

Sea Change (3.33 / 3) (#35)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 11:09:54 PM EST

Well.. I have to preface this by saying Beck is one of my 3 favorite artists. In my eyes there isn't much he could do wrong.

Sea Change is an amazing album. Very different than Midnite Vultures and Odelay, and it does both types of album a disservice to compare them. Odelay is my favorite Beck album, but Sea Change and Mutations are his most accomplished releases.

Mutations explored themes of decay, aging, and lost idealism, all while paying homage to classic rock influences. Sea Change (and I've only listened to it a few times so far) is an album about sadness and helplessness. It's not a party album, and it's his darkest work yet.

While both albums are produced by Nigel Godrich, Sea Change has much more of a Radiohead feel to it, especially on tracks like "Golden Age" and "Little One."

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.

He's in your top 3, too? (none / 0) (#51)
by Noodle on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 11:59:05 PM EST

What are your other two? Mine are Syd Barrett (once, a long time go, of Pink Floyd) and Curt Kirkwood (once of the Meat Puppets, not quite as long ago, and currently of Eyes Adrift). Well, to be completely honest, I should say those are my favorite songwriters, not necessarily my favorite bands/performers. {The Nefarious Noodle}

[ Parent ]
Top 3 (none / 0) (#52)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun Sep 29, 2002 at 12:39:44 AM EST

Well.. my top 3 is decidedly less interesting, the other two being The Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. I do enjoy Barrett's work, it's a shame he went crazy and didn't make more albums.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
I dunno... (3.75 / 4) (#36)
by Riktov on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 12:09:21 AM EST

...I thought "Wired" and "Blow by Blow" were his best albums...

One Word...plus some others right before it. (none / 0) (#39)
by dirvish on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 05:29:25 AM EST

I just listened to the album and it is quite a bit more mellow than Odelay but no less revolutionary.

Technical Certification Blog, Anti Spam Blog
It's just a record. (2.00 / 3) (#40)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 08:49:36 AM EST

And I'm sure it's not *that* good, especially since it's in English. Anyway, I'm sure les Cowboys Fringants kick this "Beck" guy's ass a thousand times. And I was listening to their records before they made it big, BTW.

I'm taking bets already on whether this comment will make me lose my trusted status. It'll never be nearly as cool as the first time shoeboy gained (and lost) trusted, but then again what could be? Shit I',m drunk, and I hope this story dies so as to minimize the amount of people who see this. Did I mention that I stopped reading k5 and have been so happy for it?


Never liked Beck, never will. (1.75 / 4) (#41)
by jonathan_ingram on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 09:03:17 AM EST

If you want to listen to the original music, rather than the watered down rubbish that is Sea Change, listen to artists like Nick Drake -- I can heartily recommend the compilation album 'Way To Blue'.
-- Jon
a compilation? (none / 0) (#49)
by blisspix on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 09:51:27 PM EST

You're recommending a compilation album? ack!

Five Leaves Left gets my hearty thumbs up, but I'm starting to get the feeling that Drake is overplayed/overcited in the last couple of years.

Perhaps it's time to turn people on to John Martyn.

[ Parent ]

Beck's Outlook (4.00 / 2) (#42)
by anaesthetica on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 10:42:36 AM EST

A saw a brief snippet on the news once where a reporter came up to Beck as he was walking down the street and asked him: "Some people call you the Bob Dylan of the 90's. How do you feel about that comparison?" To which Beck replied: "I don't know about being the Bob Dylan of the 90's, I always thought of myself more like the Bon Jovi of the 60's."

I think that just about says it all.

—I'm the little engine that didn't.
k5: our trolls go to eleven

is Beck a Scientologist or what ? (none / 0) (#48)
by zzzeek on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 08:55:18 PM EST

A google search produced much info about the "rumor", and the fact that his dad is, but nothing definitive about the man himself.

Might Beck's new effort, which, based on this article, is much more sparse and palatable to the masses, be nothing more than a Scientology effort to produce yet another big money-making contributor?  Another world-renowned COS poster-boy to take his place along with Cruise and Travolta ?  A musical Battlefield Earth ?  A sudden change in relgious ideology could underlie a sudden change in musical direction.

In that case, I will have a hard time enjoying this CD.


Yeah, until.. (none / 0) (#53)
by zipper on Sun Sep 29, 2002 at 02:12:22 AM EST

Yeah, until you realize that the mainstream view of Beck is, and will always be that he's a weird fucker.... and I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that's not the image Scientology wants to have.

This account has been neutered by rusty and can no longer rate or post comments. Way to go fearless leader!
[ Parent ]
Strange... (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by lithmonkey on Fri Dec 06, 2002 at 02:10:05 PM EST

If they're worried about looking like weird fuckers, I think that Beck is the least of their problems.

[ Parent ]
Review: Beck's Sea Change | 55 comments (21 topical, 34 editorial, 0 hidden)
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