Billed as a belated follow-up to Sea Change, his melancholy break-up album from 2002, Morning Phase is the first of two Beck albums intended for release this year.
The title pun establishes the emotional terrain: this is about getting over the kind of heartbreak that stuns one into morbid mourning, a journey that takes us from the gorgeous desolation of “Morning” – “This morning I lost all my defences/ Won’t you show me the way it used to be?” – through to another morning of “Waking Light”, looking ahead to a time when the bitter memory evaporates and he can face the morning positively again, a prospect represented by the album’s only brief burst of electric guitar, glowing like an epiphany at the conclusion.
In between, the arc of recovery is sketched in pastel tints of acoustic guitar, piano and strings (by Beck’s father, the arranger David Campbell), with subtle flecks of resonant celesta, sleek glints of steel guitar and wan banjo immersed in the soaring ambient tones and cavernous reverb that swaddles the album in the numbness of depression. “Pain – does it hurt this way?” he asks in “Heart Is a Drum”, and when the piano enters, it’s virtually impossible not to be reminded of Nick Drake.
The single “Blue Moon” finds Beck trapped inside the “penitent walls” of a “silent asylum”, drowning in blame; in “Wave”, he’s seeking refuge in isolation. But by “Turn Away”, he’s on the verge of recovery, the beautiful high harmonies like a sunburst swell of morale as he realises the need to “turn away from the weight of your own past, it’s magic for the devil”. It’s a deeply satisfying journey, the sadness tempered by the warmth and beauty of the settings, and the gentle determination of the resolution. Accordingly, it’s a much better album than Sea Change, just as immersive, but wiser and less indulgently wallowing.
Download: "Morning"; "Heart Is a Drum"; "Blue Moon"; "Turn Away"; "Waking Light"