Beck Masters 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 pop-oriented work, Beck has released in his 24 year music career. You wouldn’t think a 47-year-old artist this late in his career, could sound so fresh and youthful. Beck has been genre hopping and mastering all sorts of music throughout his career – with the lo-fi slacker guitar freakout Mellow Gold (1994), the funky parody of a nineties nightclub Midnite Vultures (1999) and the heartbreaking Sea Change (2002). On Colors, with the help of producer, Greg Kurstin, a former Beck tour keyboardist, who has worked with artists such as Sia and Adele, Beck showcases that he can dominate the new contemporary radio-friendly pop sound.

Colors opens with its complex whirling self-titled track, that really sets the tone for the album. Beck has described the track, “Colors” 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 80’s Peruvian panpipe riff  mixed with the totally modern vocal pitching singing about “All the colors”, indicates that “Party Beck” is back. This is quite a vast departure from his last album, Morning Phase (2014), which ended with Beck woefully singing about filling your eyes with a waking light.

“Seventh Heaven” opens up with a guitar lead, like one from a 2010 Strokes song. This is one of the best songs written on the new album, especially in the second verse, when Beck sings “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.” It’s a typical upbeat love song from Beck, similar to his “Think I’m in Love” off the The Information (2006). Nevertheless, the imagery is pessimistic. The opener on “I’m So Free” is reminiscent to 2000’s emo bands, like Panic! at the Disco, but then flows into a vocal approach, which seems to imitate Alex Kapranos, frontman of Franz Ferdinand. The bridge, with Beck’s vocals and guitar distortion is nostalgic to Beck’s rapping days. It is full of energy, having the potential of being a sister track to either “Devil’s Haircut” or “E-Pro.” However, the track transitions back to a more pop related energy, teasing old Beck listeners. For some listeners not digging the generic and pop-oriented style on Colors, the standout track “Dear Life” is easily one of the more classic-Beck tracks, which is a mixture of different musical styles that older Beck fans can appreciate. With the core of song being mostly piano driven, it sounds like Beck was hanging out with Paul McCartney when recording this song, especially since it has already been compared numerous times to the works of the Beatles. However, nobody has seemed to mention how similar the technique of the sizzling guitar solo is to Nick Valensi’s style of the Strokes. Beck has already cited the Strokes as a major influence for Colors, after a performance with them in 2015, at Hyde Park.

The next song, “No Distraction” is the first glimpse of the wild funk style incorporated on Midnite Vultures; very similar to “Sexx Laws”. You can hear a mix of many artists here, including Bruno Mars, The Killers, and Good Charlotte, but mostly you hear the Police jamming, from their Synchronicty (1983) days. The excitement and buildup trailing towards the spiraling chorus has all the makings of a Beck anthem. “Dreams” was the initial glimpse of Colors, released as the first single all the way back in June of 2015. It opens with a dancey Talking Heads-esque guitar riff layered with a heavy bass line. Eventually, it all leads to this heavy garage rock riff, similar to the classic Beck track, “Novacane” off his 1997 breakthrough album, Odelay. However, the lyrics included in the bridge were changed from “Stop fucking with my dreams” to “Stop dragging down my dreams.” The reason of this might be due to Colors having exclusive versions sold at retail stores including Target and Walmart. The original version has appeared as a bonus track to the album, on streaming services including iTunes and Spotify. The ironic comical trap rap “Wow” stands out as the “Loser” anthem for post-millennials. Going 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 a single.

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; this is a perfect Beck lyric.

The highly danceable and sonically produced “Up All Night” is the most radio-friendly Beck song, a perfect fit for the Billboard‘s Hot 100 Chart. 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. Along with “Seventh Heaven,” “Square One” is one of the more catchier and clever tracks on Colors, a track that could have been a new Phoenix single or straight off Beck’s 2008 album, Modern Guilt. Also, you definitely reach that party Midnite Vultures vibe, with Beck’s falsetto vocals in the chorus 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…” The tenderhearted closing track, “Fix Me” declares that the party is over and it’s time to go to bed; alluding that a miserable folksy Beck is maybe bound to return for the next album.

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 the current party rap music, and “Up All Night” the most relevant track for 2017 pop culture, Colors is aimed directly at the current generation. This might have to do with him beating out Beyoncé in the 2015 Grammy Awards. Since Beyoncé is overly worshipped by post-millennials, many people took to social media, posting the cringy #whoisbeck hashtag after Queen B’s loss. Of course Kanye West felt offended and stormed the stage in protest of Beck winning, prompting a breakout all over news outlets and social media. This controversy introduced many of this generation 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. Many teens later realized that they knew songs like “Loser” and “Where it’s At,” but were not aware they were from Beck. Beck has stated, some of the new songs were already established and ready to go well before Morning Phase won album of the year, meaning that there was no mainstream influence on the new singles. However, since Colors was postponed a couple of timesyou can say these songs might’ve sounded different artistically once. This is Beck’s album for his kids and the younger generation to appreciate. The lyrics on “Dear Life”—”While money talks to your conscience, looking like a fool for love” suggest that Beck is perfectly aware of what he is doing with Colors

On Colors, Beck sought out to make a simple fun and funky rock record, that he could relate to today’s listeners. In ways, you can call it Beck’s Let’s Dance, a non-parody 2017 version of Midnite Vultures, or Beck’s midlife crisis. But you cannot deny how time has not touched him.


Essential Tracks – “Dear Life,” “Colors,” “Square One,” “No Distraction,” “Seventh Heaven” and “Up All Night”

Ehh – “Wow” and “Fix Me”

You can listen to Beck’s Colors here.

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