Beck Takes on Contemporary Pop on ‘Colors’

Beck Colors Art
Capitol Records

The mutated and versatile Beck, recently released his thirteenth official studio album, ‘Colors,’ returning the artist to his amusing and funky side. The album was postponed several times, beginning in the summer of 2015. In August of 2017, Beck said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “These are complex songs, all trying to do two or three things at once,” he explained, “It’s not retro and not modern. To get everything to sit together so it doesn’t sound like a huge mess was quite an undertaking.”

‘Colors’ is the most joyous and pop-oriented work in Beck’s catalog, which spans over 20 years. You wouldn’t think a 47-year-old artist this late in his career, could sound this fresh and youthful, but it sounds like Beck doesn’t age. Beck has been genre hopping and mastering all sorts of music throughout his 24-year music career — from his lo-fi magic on ‘Mellow Gold’ to the funky and soulful ‘Midnite Vultures’ and of course the heartbreaking ‘Sea Change.’ But with the help of producer, Greg Kurstin, who once played in Beck’s touring band, Beck showcases he can dominate any sound that’s put in front in him and on ‘Colors,’ Beck aims towards the mainstream.

‘Colors’ opens with its complex whirling title track, that really sets the contemporary pop tone the album offers. Beck has described the intro track as a “painting that keeps getting painted over,” and that’s exactly what it is; guitars, panpipes, keyboards, and synths in one giant paint splatter. The synthy ’80s-Peruvian panpipe riff  mixed with the very modern vocal pitching singing about “All the colors”, indicates that “Party Beck” is back — a vast departure from 2014’s ‘Morning Phase’ which ended with Beck woefully singing about filling your eyes with a waking light.

“Seventh Heaven” opens up with a guitar lead one you’d hear in a recent Strokes or Phoenix song and is a pop-epic. It’s lyrics reflect the same romantic imagery on “Think I’m in Love” “We’ll shoot for the empire, land in the dustpile / I want to wake up in the shadow of a fever pitch with the gold glass heart sending messages.” “I’m So Free” is reminiscent to 2000s pop-punk bands with an energetic bridge that carries a touch of distortion. And if it continued in that direction, it could’ve easily been the next “Devil’s Haircut” or “E-Pro.” The piano driven and ’80s-Genesis-esque “Dear Life” strips away many of the layered instrumentals that are typically on Beck songs and remains the most polished song on the album that new and old fans can appreciate.

“No Distraction” is the first glimpse of the wild funk style Beck incorporated on ‘Midnite Vultures;’ very similar to “Sexx Laws.” The spiraling chorus is like if you melded together a modern-day Bruno Mars song with something off of the Police’s ‘Zenyatta Mondatta.’ “Dreams” was the initial glimpse of ‘Colors,’ released as the first single all the way back in June of 2015. It’s one of more pop-friendly anthems Beck offers, but its layered with heavy bass lines and new wave riffage, especially during its explosive bridge. The ironic comical trap rap “Wow” stands out as the “Loser” anthem for post-millennials. Reverting back to ‘Midnite Vultures’ again, “Wow” really just feels like a spiritual successor of the ironic “Hollywood Freaks.” This flute beat track has been adored since its release in June of 2016, and has been used in several advertisements, including one for the 2017 Acura MDX. Beck almost didn’t release “Wow” due to his feeling that it was a bad song. However, his children talked him into it, and Capitol Records eventually released it as one of the earlier singles. During an interview with KROQ’s Kevin & Bean, Beck said, “Most of this song was completely off the top of my head. I didn’t write any of it. It was just us fooling around in the studio.” Lyrics like “Standing on the lawn doin’ jiu jitsu, girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu” is the obscure humor that Beck is known for.

The highly danceable and sonically produced “Up All Night” is the most radio-friendly Beck song ever. It follows the style of “Dreams” opening with a heavy guitar riff, accompanied by bizarre synth effects, a groovy bass line, and one of Beck’s most upbeat choruses. Like “Seventh Heaven,” the delicate and complex “Square One” is one of the better pop songs here. With Beck bringing out his falsetto, singing, “Cause this is life and it’s alright / taking detours in your mind / you’ll be fine if you try to keep your eyes on the consolation prize,” it blends this pop-style Beck is chasing after with his signature formula. But the tenderhearted and dreamy closing track “Fix Me” declares that the party is over and it’s time to go to bed; alluding that a more miserable Beck is around the corner, blending his more reflective side (‘Sea Change,’ ‘Morning Phase’) with this same style.

With songs like “No Distraction,” a song literally about distractions from our phones and computers pulling us from one side to the other, which is mostly associated with younger people; “Wow” a song that may or may not be ironic to mainstream hip hop; and “Up All Night” the most relevant track for 2017 pop culture, ‘Colors’ was an aim directly for Beck to remain monumental towards the newer generation of listeners and that’s just not going to succeed. To see Beck trying to appeal to the post-millennial generation, who once posted and got cringeworthy hashtags like#whoisbeck to trend, is really discouraging for listeners who have been with him since he busted out from the underground with the slacker ’90s anthem “Loser.” But Beck winning Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys exposed him to the mainstream, even if has been there since “Loser” and ‘Odelay” and even sparked a ridiculous controversy. This controversy introduced many younger listeners to Beck’s music. I mean, even this had to be published and the YouTube channel, the Fine Brothers, made a reaction video for teens. Beck has stated, some of the new songs were already established and ready to go well before ‘Morning Phase’ won big at the Grammys. But since ‘Colors’ was postponed a couple times, you can suspect that these songs might’ve sounded way different before. Beck is perfectly aware of what he is doing on ‘Colors,’ but it isn’t very appealing most of Beck’s albums — “While money talks to your conscience, looking like a fool for love.” 

On Colors, Beck sought out to make a fun, simple and funky rock record, that he could relate to today’s listeners and even his kids. In ways, you can call it Beck’s ‘Let’s Dance,’ a non-parody 2017 version of ‘Midnite Vultures’ or Beck’s midlife crisis.

5.5/10  

Highlights — “Dear Life,” “Colors,” “Square One,” “No Distraction” and “Seventh Heaven”

Stream Beck’s ‘Colors’ below. 


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