Beck’s Sea Change

Beck returns with a reflective album showcasing his songwriting skills. This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco…

Beck’s new album hits the shelves on September 24 and from the sounds of it, he’s been listening to my 70s Creep Out Mix. Closer to Mutations than Midnight Vultures, Sea Change apes neither. It has its own identity, one of large sweaters, pipes and dark wood paneling. Ornate orchestration lifted straight from a James Coburn high drama and thickly reverbed backing vocals give a distinct rec. room feel.

The story goes that the songs come from Beck’s heartbreak over the end of a long relationship. Rumors a while back had our hero dumping his girlfriend and nailing Gen X party favor Winona Ryder. I don’t buy it. These are songs of loss. Beck’s not out whooping it up like a frat boy newly single after the Fall formal.

This is an album for devoted Beckheads. If you’re a casual Beck fan who loves Odelay, was annoyed by Mutations and has never even heard of One Foot in the Grave, Sea Change may take some time to grow on you. But let it. This is Beck at his most introspective; it’s Beck growing as a songwriter. But you won’t find any of the funky musings that have made Beck the crown prince of party music. No, this is personal.

Sea Change feels more like an internal dialogue, almost embarrassingly so. You sometimes get the feeling you’re reading someone’s diary. Beck’s unique, cryptic lyrics reading like a secret code that only the author should know, the words strike a feeling without forming a specific thought in the listener’s mind. That is why Beck is in a league of his own when it comes to songwriting.

From the opening strains of “The Golden Age,” ripe with acoustic strummings lifted off of the Stones’ “Angie,” Sea Change delves beyond the scattered programming and sampling of Beck’s mind to the core of his heart. “The Golden Age” eventually drifts into reverb-laden dreaminess, wrought with loss and humility.

The song opens with “Put your hands on the wheel/Let the golden age begin.” A reference to that most perfect of moments in a relationship where it all comes together: The Golden Age. But the feel of the song is more reflective than optimistic. It’s like he’s remembering the beginning of that beautiful moment, a moment he’s no longer in.

The second track, “Paper Tiger” is lush with a funky bass line and orchestration that would sound right at home in 70s detective show “The Streets of San Francisco.” This isn’t schmaltz though, the orchestration builds tension and adds drama to a mysterious and puzzling song that might otherwise lose a less attentive listener.

The first of two clear nods to Gordon Lightfoot makes its appearance in the third slot. “Guess I’m Doing Fine” and the following “End of the Day” pay homage to the Canadian folky’s laidback style and haunting singing. Grab your fave wool sweater and a can of Prince Alberts’ pipe tobacco, fall’s moving in and the Edmund Fitzgerald is breaking up.

Beck is a master of blending genres, moods and sounds to create his own sonic voice. “Lonesome Tears” starts out low and slow, like an Air song, but then builds into a dramatic chorus reminiscent of Echo and The Bunnymen. Sounds absurd? I’m talking about Beck, the reigning king of absurdity and it works.

Perhaps Beck is as susceptible to as the rest of the world. That’s good news. His take on country folk has always led to interesting new turns on a genre prone to mimicry and nostalgia. “Lost Cause” finds Beck backed by acoustic picking and soft organs. His unique sense of melody and words give the song a freshness not often found in a genre dominated by knockoffs.

Taking folk-rock a step further, Beck revisits early Neil Young with “Round the Bend” and “Already Dead to Me Now.” The former finding similarities to the softer moments on Neil’s solo debut while the latter has lyrics as shockingly heartbreaking as Young’s “Doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you.” Again, Beck’s ability to reach into his own psyche and pull out phrases that seem initially elusive but universal after reflection, establish him as a supreme lyricist.

“Sunday Sun” opens with tinkling dissonant piano notes and leads to a soaring chorus. Eastern music and percussion most likely sampled from his grandmother’s organ crash into a mass of distortion and Ringo-esque drums. Not an earth-shattering song, but interesting enough.

“Little One” is a return to Mutations territory. Liked that album? You’ll like this song.

The only stumble on the album is track seven’s “It’s all in your mind,” which is interesting and painted with creepy space sounds, but not as engaging as the rest of the album.

Beck once again turns in an album that stretches his musical points of reference and creates a work distinctly his. He is an artist above all. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like Beck, we can’t even be friends.

Beck has been streaming this album on his website with a song added each week up to the release date.

36 thoughts on “Beck’s Sea Change”

  1. “As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like Beck, we can’t even be friends.”

    amen, brother!

    if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and find a bootleg of one of the recent solo acoustic shows. you will not be disappointed.

  2. I’ve been listeing to the stream for the last week or so. I’m definitely more of a Midnite Vultures kind of guy (that’s my favorite Beck album to date), but since getting into the sound (and joining an band), I’m much more receptive to the sound of Sea Changes. I think it’s got a wonderful progression throughout the album. I’m picking it up tomorrow.

    Oh, and props to Beck for the whole streaming arrangement. I read more in the NYTimes today about the Big Five and their problems with electronic distribution, and it just made me appreciate those who just want their fans to get the effing music.

  3. We’ll see how streaming plays a role in sales of this album. i firmly believe that if the msuic is good, it will sell regardless of (and often thanks to) file sharing and streaming.

  4. I just finished listening for the second time – starting the third. Having been listening to the stream, it’s a real object lesson in the sound loss in compressed formats. The detail and background on the recording are just gorgeous.

  5. It’s so awesome how, within the first few seconds of SEA CHANGE, Beck has you thinking about a classic song like “Angie.” And it’s not in a rip-off, “Oh, look at Beck, copping the Stones’ moves” kind of way; instead, it’s a feeling of “Yes, this is exactly how Beck SHOULD begin an album.” And then when “Paper Tiger”‘s rhythms reflect recent work by Macy Gray and Maxwell from the introductory drum fill, AND the song begins Beck’s vocal fascination with Lightfoot, you know you have a classic album on your hands, and you’re truly happy that your pal waited in line to buy you a ticket to the Beck/Flaming Lips show while you yourself tried desperately to extricate yourself from your bathroom.


  6. Beck rules. Did you see him on VH1’s 100 Sexiest Artists? I forget where they slotted him, but he richly deserves to be in such a list. I like how they’re including artists who wouldn’t normally be known for sex appeal, though, like Kurt Cobain, and the commentators are saying intelligent things like how someone’s intensity or genuineness can make them sexy. (I’ve been sucked into this show two nights in a row now so I’m very well versed in it.) I haven’t heard Beck’s album yet but I know I’m going to love it — loved Mutations, still love Odelay, miss my copy of Mellow Gold. Didn’t go for Midnight Vultures much.

  7. I don’t know if its a recent mood i am in, but this record is hitting me hard. I think its beautiful record, both introspecive and lush. It really proves that Beck is one of our greatest talents right now. I like the party tunes (Midnight Vultures) stuff just as much, but its great when an artist can mix it up and do both so well! Bravo to Beck – Sea Change is a masterpiece!

  8. I thought that Mutations was a wonderful album, and I assumed that Sea Change would be more of the same – the streamed tracks had me hopeful for that. It’s definitely not Mutations, though.. I dunno. I’m a little bit disappointed.


  9. Really? I really dig Sea Change. Even more than Mutations. I think Sea Change maybe takes some time to work under your skin. I find the melodies popping up in my head all the time.

  10. Just downloaded the mp3’s, and I’ve been listening to Sea Change nonstop all day. It’s the shiznit, no doubt.

    And I’m planning on picking up the cd today, so cram it, RIAA!

  11. I’m the newest Beck fan. This is definitely a musician of substance and depth, which is so refreshing to me, what with the current pathetic state of music. The emotions he conveys to us in Sea Change are so raw.All who have loved and lost can identify with the heartache he shares with us.

    I love the folksy Lightfootesque way he sings, and I can also hear sounds reminiscent of Ok Computer.

    Unlike a lot of people who needed Sea Change to grow on them, I was hooked on the first listen.

  12. i really like this album. i’m a diehard beck fan though, and really looking forward to what he does in his tour this october, since i missed the august one. my favorite albums of his are still one foot in the grave and mellow gold, but this one is too gorgeous to disregard, even though its a new sound. the orchestrals on paper tiger kill me, and he sings its all in your mind so passionately it makes me want to cry. ive been listening to it non-stop since the 24th.

  13. Sea Changes is a classic already. It’s a staggering jump ahead for Beck, in my opinion. He already has arguably the strongest back catalog of any artist of the younger generation; and this is, perhaps, his best album to date. (Stronger than Odelay, and more focused than Mutations.) Practically every song is a true gem, and it contains some of his strongest LYRICS, MELODIES, AND ARRANGEMENTS period. I always knew Beck was a terrific artist – but this will be the album that really opens up his future. He is actually starting to DESERVE that ever-so-over-used label of genius. Now if only he can create the equivalent to Sea Changes from funky side… then we’d all have to stop and think about his place among the all-time greats! (Either way, he’s well on his way.)

  14. When I first heard Beck oh so long ago, I thought, man this guy is cool, he’s just spitting out lines so ridiculous that it’s cool. Following from Mellow Gold to Odelay was just so natural to me. Then I picked up One Foot in the Grave. I played it and just didn’t get it. It gathered a bit of dust for the month I left it on my shelf. I decided to give it another chance. I don’t know how I could have been so stupid. When I picked up Mutations I saw the extension of his country/blues/folk roots and music that seemed more honest, (less funky, yes…), than his quasi hip hop etc. albums. At this point those albums had entranced me a little Midnite Vultures was a breath of fresh (sexy) air. I don’t know why (some) people slam that album. It puts a smile on my face and then makes me wanna get down. Finally, with this new Sea Change, he’s returning back to the country/folk side of the spectrum. I liked Mutations, I loved One Foot in the Grave, but I love this album even more. It’s entrancing to just sit and listen to it as the sky grows dark and you can start to see your reflection in the window. It makes me sad but seems to comfort me as well. Then it hits me…the lyrics are so starkly obvious, for once you don’t have to decode his words to see what he’s saying. It’s as obvious as Girl Dreams…

    This past summer was my summer of One Foot in the Grave, this fall, winter, spring will be Sea Change.

    (Note: If you haven’t heard Stereopathetic Soul Manure it will possibly frighten you, but there is something very…compelling about it)

  15. I cannot believe this album. It’s a f***ing masterpiece in every way. Trouble is, I can’t stop listening to it and am in danger of really over-playing it. In particular, Guess I’m Doing Fine and Lonesome Tears. That string arrangement running right through Lonesome Tears (it just KEEPS GOING!!), you just have to listen to that on headphones with no-one else around, so enchanting, so thought-provoking, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful album through and through. GOD I’m sounding SO pretentious, but this album IS just the balls…

  16. I wasn’t a huge Beck fan before this album. I knew “loser” and “where it’s at” but that was the extent. I remeber seeing him on SNL and he was dancing like a noodle. It was really cool. But now,i have to say…this is an amazing album. Who says it’s Album of the year? I think it’s the only one that’s recieved 5 stars in Rolling stone right? #11 on that album is my favorite. It seems to be a trippy, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, Radiohead along with the kick-assed-ness darkly personal voice of beck. Truly an accomplishment. Amazing…just amazing. :) absloutly beautiful. I like beck quite a bit now! I’m definaly going to the concert in November.

  17. I had the pleasure of meeting Beck in Vancouver in 2000; my brush with greatness. I can not stop listening to Sea Change. The production values are astounding; thank Godrich! Thank YOU Mr. Hansen.

  18. amazing simply amazing. I m a fan of nick drake music and i never thought it was possible to write such moving and smart music and beck did it.Sea change is absolutly incredible itseem its charm and magig sadness won’t be used by time.It’s the kind of masterpiece like leoanrd cohen record which follow you like good friends during your all lifetime. thank you Beck you’re defintly a wizard and you understood human feelings like nobody else in music today

  19. that’s the ultimative thing – all this moody sadness wrapped around the warm and brilliant sound + voice. the soundtrack for coming dark and long autumn days – í could cry “lonesome tears” bout this gem . thx beck

  20. I’ve always enjoyed his output over the years, but this is the first Beck album I’ve actually purchased, having been awestruck when I heard it unexpectedly at a music store..I can’t say enough about it, as it hasn’t left my CD changer yet. Absolutely haunting and heartbreaking– the sound of a soul being laid bare.

  21. I started listining to beck a while ago because my dad picked up a copy of midnite vultures. At first it was to weird, i was to young to really get into it, but after a year or so i put it on and couldent get enough of it espcially train and butiful way. I kinda went backwards and bought odlay, mellow gold and one foot in the grave. I like sterio pathetic soul manure, but its only really cool when your stoned or something. Mutations was a cool album for me partly because i am a big radiohead fan, and Nigel works so well with bek its absolutly amazing. But sea Change is the culmination of all his talants, positivly wonderfull, it really should be listend to on head phons to catch the entricate rythems and melodys. Beck has alwase had the ability to come out with an album of theis caliber, but I think that untell now he was worried about proving himself as a artist, or that he diddent have the reascorces. I recomend this album to annyone at all, who could find anything wrong with it? At the very least the melodys are pleasing to the ear. Ill admit that im not a folky guy but this is the top

  22. This is a work of genius. Sea Changes is up there with OK Computer and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His voice is just fantastic on this one as well. It’s quite amazing he’s the same guy who put out the nightmarish Mellow Gold. I tell ya’, he’s the best we got now, since the Beatles. Hope he’s doing fine.

  23. I really love music of many different types, but along with Pearl Jam, Beck is the only other musical artist that makes me mark my calendar with the date of each new release. Their music is different than anything else out there and, to me, they both appear to be totally about musical honesty. Their performances do not cater. they do not film a bunch of videos to make sure that their records sell a gazillion copies to snot-nosed adolescents. Their performances are from the heart. And it has been a pleasure to hear how both have evolved over time. Pearl Jam will not record another “Ten” and Beck will not record another “Mellow Gold”. And that is a good thing. It’s called evolution.

    There is one common thread that runs through a lot of everyone’s comments… Everyone tries to compare Beck’s music to the music produced by other artists. Dylan, Lightfoot, Drake, Beatles – what does it really matter? It is probably impossible to be totally original. Every performer “borrows” from others that came before. The true artist takes what they have heard and creates something more compelling with it – something that conveys a message that, hopefully, reaches listeners on a personal level.

    Instead of believing reviewers that try to place Beck in a convenient little pigeonhole by labeling his music or saying that he’s borrowed from specific artists, I suggest that the listener perform a very simple test. Just put the headphones on, close your eyes and listen without any sort of preconceived prejudice. You will hear nothing short of some of the most moving music available today. And for anyone that listens to “Sea Change” the first time, they may feel that all the songs sound the same. Listen again. And again. Only then will you understand that each additional time you play this one, the music will grow more and more meaningful and each song is very unique. I love every single one on “Sea Change”, but the one that really moves me after ten or fifteen listenings is “Guess I’m Doing Fine”. No window dressing here. He just gets straight to the heart of the matter – the anguish he feels over a lost relationship and the fact that he is trying to move on with his live, but he can’t. This is a classic that could have been written by Hank Williams himself.

    Ultimately, I guess I am somewhat interested in who influenced Beck. But only to know who he listens to and how he got to the place where he is today, musically-speaking. However, it is infinitely more important to me to know that Beck’s music influences me on a personal level.

  24. it’s funny that you said “soundtrack for dark and long autumn days” because Beck was just another artists until around Halloween time in 95 i think i lit some candles, turned out the lights, smoked my mind, drank my wine and played Odelay start to finish and i saw the light and the genious that is Beck Hansen. never have i been so moved as i was at that time. the album played perfectly to the surroundings and seemed to be a “soundtrack” or sorts.

  25. When “Mello Gold” came out I was 15, still experimenting with drugs and living with my parents.I totally understood Beck then, and throughout all his albums it seems like I changed with him.”Sea Change” is a materpiece and I look at it as a sign of a coming of age for people in the latter part of Gen X.I guess we’re ALL growed up now Beck.Unbelieveable.

  26. This cd is amazing!!! i love it! and i love beck’s music! it’s so..unique. best cd i’ve ever bought! well that’s my 2 cents!! ttyld!


    ~~>The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are but Threads in the Great Pattern of Ages<~~

  27. I can’t believe the praise this record is getting. Mutations was fantastic, parts of Odelay were good and inventive, and Midnight Vultures was so-so… but while the lyrics are the usual fantastic, musicly this record is far from compelling. It’s the same accoustic strum, laced with the same string arrangements, combined with Beck’s wandering drivel throughout. This is disappointing because he’s capable of so much more… he’s extremely gifted.

    If you think this record is great, you really should go back to music appreciation class and pay attention. This is far from a masterpiece, but every song sounds exactly the same and I can’t believe I’m the only one that hears it.

    If it takes more than one listen to be wowed, like “letting it grow on you” as stated in this review, it’s not a masterpiece. “Letting it grow on you” is the same as saying “it’s boring but if you listen to it a bunch you’ll get familiar with it and be able to tell one song from the next”. That’s Sea Change.

  28. To anonymous who wrote the previous review, I disagree! I liked Odelay and Midnite Vultures, but I didn’t think Mutations was all that. Sea Change however is an artistic breakthrough without doubt. I was hooked the first time I heard it, and after listen 32 I’m only more wowed.

    Fantastic. Thank God for this album.

  29. To anonymous above, if you feel that all the songs sound “exactly the same”, you can easily identify the person that needs to go back to music appreciation class – just look in the mirror. And I don’t think a “masterpiece” is recognized as such the first time you hear an album. More likely, if you like the hooks in the songs the first time you hear them, you will also get bored with them just as quickly (unless you have a very short attention span). Multiple listenings reveal layers to the music that you simply can’t pick-up the first or second time around. If you give this one a chance with an open mind, I’m sure you will find that this is a recording that is worthy of Beck’s talent.

    There are basically two kinds of music – good and bad. There is no doubt that this one is the former.

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