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Sea Change
Artist: Beck
Label: Geffen Records
Length: 12 tracks/52:18

The eccentric star is so well-respected in the music world that he’s in a unique position: Rather than wondering if Beck can keep up with the latest trends or if he still “has it,” fans and critics wonder what he will do next. Beck is on his own clock not borrowed time.

Sea Change, Beck's latest release, directly mirrors 1998’s Mutations as an introspective acoustic record. The album stifles the funky momentum that Midnight Vultures began in 1999. Simply put, Sea Change is a disappointment. The songs on the album are gruelingly slow and few vocal or musical hooks are present to add interest.

Unfortunately, there are no upbeat retreats on Sea Change such as “Tropicalia” was for Mutations. The album could use such an oasis from the acoustic sea on which Beck is sailing. One good decision Beck made is touring with the Flaming Lips as his backing band. The psychedelic rockers’ energy may be what the songs on Sea Change need to come alive.

The redeeming quality of Beck is that he will always try something new. It’s all but guaranteed that the follow-up to Sea Change will be completely different. That is a good thing, because Sea Change misses the boat, serving as little more than background music.

Jon Singer 12/2/2002

Sea Change is a gorgeous, sprawling album of heavy-hearted introspection. I think it's Beck's finest album and, as is so often the case, it comes out of a time of heartbreak and trouble.

Beck's new and best album may as well be dubbed the first album of a daring duo: Beck and Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich. Godrich seems liberated by the slow, sparse arrangements of these heartbreak narratives, so that Beck's lyrics creak and groan like a battered ship at sea. And the sea... the sea is an ocean of strings more overpowering than on any rock record I can remember. 

Yet, this stands out as a rare Godrich production because the vocals stand out so resonantly that we really get the feeling we're inside Beck's head. And what a strange, sad trip that journey is.

Okay, so the story goes that these songs were written right after Beck's breakup with his girlfriend. So what? He has the dignity to keep the specific personal stuff private. The real headline here is that, for the first time, the listener will probably get a good handle on what most of the songs are about. The lyrics are less ambiguous. (To say they are straightforward would be a gross exaggeration.) I've always enjoyed Beck's wordplay, but he's kept me at a distance because I rarely get an inkling of what they're
really *about*. (Some of the satires on Midnite Vultures are exceptions, but they're just that: cultural commentary and satire. Nothing terribly inspiring or moving about that.)

When I first heard "Round the Bend", the album's centerpiece and the strongest song in Beck's whole catalogue, my first thought... right during the opening strains... was "My goodness, this sounds like Nick Drake's "River Man'." (If you don't know who Nick  Drake is, check out Five Leaves Lef_, one of the most beautiful, syrup-thick, luxuriantly moody records of the last 30 years.) The song then unfolded not as a cover, but as a sort of sequel. Then, to discover that "Sunday Sun" has a predecessor on the same Drake album that includes "River Man," a song called "Saturday Sun," sealed the deal. This might be Beck's album of wishful thinking...what if the master of despondent, autumn poetry was alive today and really liked Radiohead? What would he write if he had just broken up with his longtime girlfriend.

Beck doesn't suggest anything beyond the merest hope of healing. But art is not required to give us the whole picture. If it gives us part of the picture as fully and honestly as possible, we should be able to fill in the rest. The music, while sad, is beautiful, and proof enough that all things work together for good. 

Jeffrey Overstreet 12/3/2002
 
 

Jeffrey Overstreet writes regular reviews, news, and essays on the arts and Christian perspectives at the Looking Closer web page and in The Crossing, a magazine for Christian artists.  He is also the editor of a weekly column at ChristianityToday.com called Film Forum, and he is a founding member of Promontory Artists Association. You can contact Jeffrey at Promontory@aol.com.  
 
 
 

 

   
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