There’s been much critical hoopla already about 32-year-old Beck’s latest, the somber, folk-art pastiche Sea Changes, which senior Rolling Stone schmoozer David Fricke called “his Blood on the Tracks.”
Endless comparisons to Nick Drake and other ‘70s Brit icons aside, Beck has released an eloquent ode to his own despondency here—full-band-backed songs that range from the lovely country number “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” with its ghostlike slide guitar (Tom Waits’ guitarist Smokey Hormel), to the catchy Alec Chilton-like harmonies of “Sunday Sun” and the bleak, heavily stringed orchestral moments interspersed throughout that recall Pink Floyd’s The Wall if arranger James Guthrie were trapped in a condemned disco. The album is threaded by a penitent sort of heaviness beneath the surface of all 12 love-stained songs.
All this tears-in-beer material reportedly stems from Beck’s break-up with his longtime girlfriend (and personal stylist), who was with him from before his “star” days.
Tone-wise, it’s as if the artist expounded on one of the deepest songs he has ever written, “Nobody’s Fault but My Own,” the lingering, reflective flavor of which can be felt in most of these made-for-headphone songs. The more acoustic-built tunes tend to fare better, echoing former studio efforts such as Mutations, to which this album feels like an older, embittered cousin.
Producer Nigel Goodrich provides the best lush ambience money can buy, but it’s Beck himself who, by allowing his versatile voice to finally come clearly to the forefront of his music, makes this one of his most mature records to date—albeit a disquieting one.
Some of the lyrics sound clichéd, but without the focus on his usual collage suspects (soul/hip-hop/tropicalia and surreal, acid-drenched imagery) Beck is left confronting just the sad songs themselves. There are definitely some keepers that show an artist more content with creative self-expression than his own neo-hipster persona, but even with all the fancy studio fare, it’s still not as "felt" as his earlier, raw anti-folk.