Beck – Sea Change
Beck – Sea Change
As its name implies, Sea Change is the biggest departure from the rest of Beck’s catalog and for one reason and one reason alone: he steps out from behind the curtain to reveal a vulnerable man. While many artists get stuck in the habit of only writing about themselves, Beck took the other route, writing about really anything besides himself, even if that “anything” was simply nonsense. Here, he fixes his gaze squarely on his broken relationship with his longtime girlfriend, how he’s been derailed and isn’t sure why, how he’s lost his ballast and is left adrift. It may have been easy to presume that one of the reasons Beck chose not to write directly about himself was that he simply wasn’t sure how. He was always a wordsmith but one who told riddles and spat jokes, not bared his soul. Fortunately, he squashes this assumption throughout Sea Change, his lyrics trimmed and focused, using evocative imagery and surprisingly emotional directness. Listen to how he winds down the chorus on “Guess I’m Doing Fine” (“It’s only lies that I’m living/It’s only tears that I’m crying/It’s only you that I’m losing/Guess I’m doing fine”), trying not to admit to himself the weight of his situation. Throughout, he makes similar admissions, and even if he doesn’t find the answers to his questions, he seems to at least find a bit of solace by the time “Side Of The Road” rolls around.
It’s not just the words that make this album a milestone, though. With the help of Nigel Godrich, Beck crafts a warm, woozy sound that’s grounded in woeful country, British psychedelia and folky singer/songwriterism. As such, it’s full of tense string arrangements (courtesy of his father), resigned keyboards and gloomy harmonies, all of which wrap around his voice and acoustic guitar, both of which sound richer and more soulful than ever. All in all, the album is pitched somewhere between the delicate melancholy of Nick Drake, Serge Gainsbourg’s spooky seductiveness and Bob Dylan, whose emotionally bloodied Blood On The Tracks is one of the more obvious touchstones. Sure, this doesn’t sound too far removed from his work on One Foot In The Grave or Mutations, but he delves deeper here, his songs more nuanced and better-crafted, able to stand up to the psychedelic touches that Godrich adds. Those looking for the mercurial shifts in style and colorful humor of Odelay or Midnite Vultures need not apply—this is a strictly somber affair. But hopefully even those listeners will stick around because Sea Change is one of the great break-up albums ever recorded and a testament to Beck’s musicianship. It may not have been as innovative or influential as some of his other work, but he never made a better record than this.