Grab “Blue Moon” because the wordless vocal hook (first appearing at the 0:50 mark) is the album’s most indelible melody and because the minute-long coda is Morning Phase at its most colorful, finally achieving the promise from the colorful cover and title. Spin “Unforgiven” because I quite like the lone drum sound that’s tossed out, punctuating each chorused couplet, and the song (/album) could have used more of those bright ideas and spin “Say Goodbye” for its banjo. Though I’ll never understand the emotional appeal of Sea Change, these are the songs that remind me of that album’s ambitions, you remember, like the Gainsbourg-esque “Paper Tiger,” the crescendoing conclusion of “Lonesome Tears,” the sounds-like-its-title-ness of “Sunday Sun,” etc. And I guess you might as well spin “Morning” while you’re at it because the way Beck emotes the hook (“It’s morning”) is quite effective and it makes up for the inexplicable length of the track (5 minutes?!) and the fact that it otherwise sounds exactly like “The Golden Age” (acoustic guitar + piano + glockenspiels).
The rest of the album? Like Sea Change, there are a few missteps. Though the choruses of “Don’t Let It Go” have one of the better melodies on the album, its arrangement is a little too cluttered for its own good, so no points for that. Worse than his approximating Nick Drake in Sea Change’s “Round the Bend” is his plagiarism of “The Sounds of Silence” in both the melody and the harmonies on “Turn Away.” The supposed centerpiece, “Wave,” with a string arrangement courtesy of Beck’s dad, is absolute shit and when Beck repeats “Isolation” over the “Pyramid Song”-like bombast around him (I really think the only band that can do Radiohead-like bombast as well as Radiohead is, well, Radiohead), it makes me genuinely wonder if the guy’s ever been depressed because depression doesn’t sound like that. Actually, this song sounds like a parody of people who are genuinely depressed. And question: does his lyrics on this album, which are all rhymes for rhyming’s sake, do anything for anyone?
Beck’s previous three albums, Guero, The Information and Modern Guilt, weren’t perfect but they could teach Morning Phase a lesson that you don’t need to slow and soft to channel an emotion, you can do so while rocking out as well – recall “Think I’m In Love” and “Chemtrails.” If you want a folk album to put on while hugging your knees in the shower and wondering when it’ll get better, February gave you plenty of other options, like Marissa Nadler’s July and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, both of which offered better lyrics and better arrangements. All I have left to say about this piece of shit is that an interviewer at nprmusic told Beck that, regarding “Wave,” “You actually sound like God. It has a lot of power” and I almost choked on my almond croissant. Are you fucking kidding me?