The last time Beck sounded like this, it was 2002 and he was reeling from a breakup and his listeners were reeling from the aftermath of 9/11.
"Sea Change" was the gorgeously distraught sound of struggling to get out of bed after trauma. His new album "Morning Phase" (Capitol) is the similarly lush, but far more determined, sound of being able to face the day again.
Beck enlisted the same band from "Sea Change" for "Morning Phase" -- guitarist Smokey Hormel, keyboard player Roger Joseph Manning Jr., bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Joey Waronker -- and they re-create a dream world of string sections, hushed guitars and woozy beauty. "Waking light, it grew from the shadow," he sings in the finale "Waking Light," with an echoing effect on his voice so strong that it almost sounds angelic. "Night is gone, long way turning, you've waited long enough to know."
The first single "Blue Moon" sounds confident, as Waronker builds a drum-driven groove, though Beck still seems a bit uneasy, begging, "Don't leave me on my own," while surrounding the request with what sounds like a choir of Brian Wilsons offering supportive "oohs" and "ahs."
"Morning Phase" does offer more than "Sea Change." After all, Beck hasn't stood still in his songwriting and, more importantly, his arranging and producing. There's a bit of Radiohead's influence in the epic "Wave," especially as Beck uses his falsetto. There's a Bon Iver feel to the pretty "Turn Away." But perhaps the biggest accomplishment in "Morning Phase" is the way it captures the feeling of hope.
THE GRADE A-
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BOTTOM LINE His new "Sea Change" finds the experimental singer-songwriter leveling off.