Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Requested Review: "Sea Change" by Beck


Tonight's review has been requested by everybody's great friend Dave Winchell. He was the first one to comment, and Sea Change is an album I have had for the last three years or so but haven't listened to since like my freshmen year of college, so hey! It's a perfect candidate for a REQUESTED REVIEW!! Congrats, Dave.

Why have I not listened to this album in three years, you ask? Simply put, I'm just not compelled to. I haven't listened to Beck all that much in the past three years, actually, so maybe it's just because I am not the world's biggest Beck booster (note my alliteration, which I feel helps illustrate my point). I've got a few of his albums and I like a decent amount of his songs, but he has never entered the pantheon of my personal "Grade A" artists (then again, not many have, so maybe I'm just a dick). Sea Change, as any well-versed Beck fan will tell you, was Mr. Hansen's so-called "breakup" album released a few (well, ok, six) years back, apparently recorded shortly after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend. As such, many people have placed it in the pantheon of classic "breakup" albums, such as Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks (which Rolling Stone memorably compared Sea Change to in its 5-star review) or... I don't know, that one Richard Thompson album. And you know, all the songs present here are expectantly low-key, somber affairs, filled with tasteful string arrangements and world-weary lyrics, a far cry from the goofy funk-pop-rap workouts he was groovin' on in the 90s.

It is an interesting, notable change of pace for Mr. Beck, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Unfortunately, the truth is that these songs just don't hit me the way they used to. Here is my current problem with Sea Change: instead of the organic melancholy song-cycle that I once knew, it now sounds like a blatantly calculated attempt by Beck to make a "sensitive," "moving" album. I mean, he couldn't keep up with those goofy electro-phunk goodtime songs, right?? No, he needed to show that he was a SERIOUS SONGWRITER. As such, Sea Change is almost prototypical to me: a slow, somber, string-filled (ALLITERATION STRIKES AGAIN) piece of work, with simple arrangements and a sort of country-rock confessional vibe. It's almost the stereotypical broken-heart album - at least in Beck's eyes.

See, that's another problem; it sounds like Beck really wanted people to call this one a breakup album, so he made every song very low-key and sad and kind of samey. And admittedly, it bores me a little. Songs like "The Golden Age" (which to me now sounds like a less-interesting version of the Flaming Lips' "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain" - I've heard the similarities, and now I can't unhear them), "Guess I'm Doing Fine," or "Round The Bend" just don't do much for me. And most songs on the album sound like them! Let's take the Rolling Stone perspective here and compare Sea Change to maybe the most infamous breakup album of all time, Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks. Tracks has plenty of acoustic songs about heartbreak, but it's also got a goofy tall-tale, a bluesy shuffle, a 7-minute angry diatribe - it's got diversity up the ying-yang, is what I'm saying, not to mention that even Dylan's acoustic songs were often peppy and interesting even in moments of sadness. On Sea Change Beck's mood is unflinchingly monochromatic, and it doesn't make for much of an interesting listen for me, not to mention that his voice has the same sort of uninterested, low-key tone throughout the whole album. It makes me really wish he had thrown a wrench in there or two.

So yes, I am being a little negative about Sea Change. But I certainly don't hate this album - the songs are well-written, and if you give them a little time they are indeed compelling. I am very fond of several of the moodier songs on here, most notably "Paper Tiger," "Lonesome Tears" and the alluring "Little One." "Guess I'm Doing Fine" and "Lost Cause," while they do kind of scream "I AM A SENSITIVE SONGWRITER, SEE??", are very pleasing, nice songs. And I really dig "Sunday Sun" - it's kind of an unusual psych-rock dirge, ending with a weird drum-guitar rock freakout at the very end - a really unexpected moment in such a slow album.

Let's be honest: I find this album completely inoffensive, and often quite pretty. If you swear by this one, I will disagree with you, but I will respect your decision. I can understand why people like this record - hell, I really liked it back in the day! I just wish it grabbed me the way it used to. It might just be that this kind of music does not gratify me anymore. I need something with a little more "pizzaz" nowadays, music that takes a few more risks. I don't know. Dispute me if you must!! Lots of people LOVE this album.

But no, really, you should hear the Lips' "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain." It's like "The Golden Age" only totally wrecked. In a great way. Funny enough, the Lips themselves did a cover of "Golden Age," which I guess makes sense. Either way, I can never hear "Golden Age" without hearing "Five Stop" anymore. It is irreversible.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I was boooooooorn the dayyyy they shot JFKayyyyyyyy...

For me, Nigel Godrich really makes the album - the production and layering of strings and whatnot on "Paper Tiger" and "Lonesome Tears" (my favorite song on the album, bar none) give those songs the intensity they need. That said it is kinda samey, but still a good album. I'll also give props to "Already Dead," which I really like.

Still, if I want Beck, I turn to "Odelay" and "Guero" ("Modern Guilt" is pretty good too) and if I want break-up songs... well, I haven't really wanted those in a long time... but I guess I'll just listen to "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen on repeat.

Just kidding. I do love that song though.