When Beck Hansen put out his first album you could buy it on cassette. He's in his 40s now and his twelfth record, “Morning Phase,” hit shelves this week to much critical fanfare for its rich, gorgeous orchestral sound. Early press seemed to agree it's a sequel to 2002's much loved “Sea Change,” and while I won't dispute that, it lacks that record's raw, emotional immediacy. Beck sings the whole of “Morning Phase” in a detached, almost cold manner, like he's chosen to revisit those old feelings from a more stable, contented place in his life.
And since that was the only really interesting thought I could think about “Morning Phase,” Beck's return got me revisiting his broad catalogue over the last few months I thought I might trot out a few of his exceptional deeper cuts. Here's to looking back with Beck.
“Strange Apparition” from “The Information,” 2006Taken as a whole, “The Information” is one of Beck’s more fun endeavors, probably because its hits swing just as hard as its misses. “Strange Apparition” is one of the former, a ramshackle future-gospel ballad (“When the Lord rings my front door and asks me what I got to show / besides the dust in my pockets and the fangs that just eat away my soul”) propped up by a rich, old grand piano that catches you off-guard between the minor-key funk of “Cellphone’s Dead” and “Soldier Jane’s” eastern synths. It’s the perfect blend of new and old.
“Nicotine & Gravy” from “Midnite Vultures,” 1999“Debra”’s rightfully the song everybody remembers off “Midnite Vultures” but “Nicotine & Gravy” is where the whole record’s cornball white-boy R&B gets distilled to purity, then smeared beyond recognition with oddball samples. Lyrically it reaches an absurdist seduction that only R. Kelly or —reaching outside R&B— maybe Ke$ha could top: “I’ll feed you fruit that don’t exist / I’ll leave graffiti where you’ve never been kissed.” It's “Let's Get it On” for the dweeb set.
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