When Beck won the Grammy Award for Best Album in 2015 for Morning Phase, which Kanye thought should have gone to Beyoncé, he had yet again become creator of serene music for introverts a la Sea Change, of acoustic guitar soul-soothers for shrinking violets and wallflowers. Having once had my Latin teacher youtube ‘The Golden Age’ to the class in year 11 while we were grinding through the Cambridge Latin Course – my first Beck experience – my hormonal, antagonising sixteen year old self ignorantly dismissed Beck as a moping, whingeing, whining waif who was not cool like David Bowie and not worthy of my honourable attention.
This is a man old enough to be my dad getting back to being young and hip and wearing jeans that are street-wise skinny.
Then I heard ‘Up all Night’ and thought, what the hell happened? Listening to ‘Dreams’, the stomping lead single from Colors, was, for me, like watching a teenager undergoing his induction into the loosening power of alcohol: for the first time he senses the very stuff of life coursing within him. He feels like he can run for miles. He is no longer satisfied with lurking in the shadows. He has his heart unrestrainedly set on getting up onto the dancefloor and getting down.
The Sexy Beck of ‘E-Pro’ and The Information is back. This is Fifa ‘17 Soundtrack Beck. This is a man old enough to be my dad getting back to being young and hip and wearing jeans that are street-wise skinny. Right from the get-go in the eponymous opening track, the drums and guitars are rainbow-bright, the keyboards are wound in the window-glint of an early evening autumn sunshine; the slick, shimmering, highly stylised vocals fire it all as if calling from heaven. The whole album basks in this rich, saturated primary-colour production. Here we have something big, ambitious, eyeing the prizes of money and glory. Slower Beck Ballads – ‘Fix Me’, ‘Dear Life’ – are still present, but firmly belonging to the new, reverb-heavy, uplifting guard.
That ballad, ‘Dear Life’, opens with a Beatle-esque honky-tonk piano that echoes McCartney’s ‘Lady Madonna’. In fact, this record is infused with the Paul McCartney, “I have to admit this is getting better” view of life rather than John Lennon’s “It can’t get no worse” cynicism. If all pop music is to be summarised as a battle between these two emotional forces, of optimism and deflation, love and war, light and dark, life and death, then Beck has determinedly shifted his allegiance once again from the side looking down to the side looking up.
Colors is fashioned in a world that is impeccably lovely and undyingly positive, where there is a spoonful of sugar for every bitter dose of medicine, where help is never far away. Beck celebrates a McCartney-esque vision of novelty and fun that might be sweet enough to make some sick. Though, as can only be expected after decades of craft, there is a maturity of emotion beneath it all which can only gain my respect.