Album Review: Beck’s “Colors”

I’ve always loved Beck, whether I’ve admitted it or not. He’s gone through so many phases and worn so many hats—both literally and musically—that his music always has an unpredictable edge to it. From the slacker folk of “Mellow Gold” to the fuzzed-out riffs of “Guero,” he has always done whatever he has wanted to. His newest release, “Colors,” is a danceable funk-fest, and definitely his most poppy record to date. Listeners and fans got a preview of this new sound in 2015, when he released the first single from the album, titled “Dreams.” Two years later, he’s finished his latest record. I’m not going to do a full run-down of every single song; rather, I want to talk about them in terms of genre (or, in some cases, lack of genre). I’ll start by looking through the lens of pop music. In the first track, “Colors,” Beck sings, “Do you feel alive?” over a repetitive dance track that is reminiscent of Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound,” with an infectious panpipe hook (I know, right?!) behind it that wouldn’t sound out of place at a high school dance. One of Beck’s strengths on this effort, which allows for his seemingly effortless transition into pop material, is his ability to create catchy vocal hooks. His voice sounds less lazy and mumbled here than it has on previous records, like “Guero.” “Colors” is a great example of this, as are his vocals on “Seventh Heaven.”

There are some songs that are more difficult to appreciate on the first listen. For instance, “I’m So Free” is inconsistent within itself. It starts with the same four-on-the-floor beat heard in the previous two tracks. There are two very different pre-choruses. To the first one, he adds a sort of auto-tune vocoder that doesn’t seem to work, then, suddenly, he switches gears, transitioning into a weird rap pre-chorus with a very heavy electric guitar riff supporting it. The chorus then busts into pop punk territory with its simple hook, “I’m so free,” repeating over power chords and a bombastic drum groove. Ultimately, it is songs like this that keep me from fully embracing the record. The incoherence within songs, specifically the chameleon approach of engaging multiple genres, makes it feel like Beck is selling out rather than trying to do his own thing. Another song that sounds too poppy for Beck is “Wow.” When I first listened to this track, it sounded, to me, a lot like “Get Schwifty” from the acclaimed television show Rick and Morty. “It’ll be like wow, like right now” are the lyrics over a repetitive synth melody, with an obnoxious drum machine behind it that is reminiscent of bad trap music.

However, he does return to his classic Beck quirkiness on some songs. “Dear Life” is classic Beck, sounding more like one of his earlier albums than the new sleek pop. It is just as unpredictable as “I’m So Free,” but it feels like every transition in the song supports it rather than breaks it apart. It starts with an almost New Orleans-esque piano groove, and then it dives in with some guitar. By the end, the track has taken on something close to the psychedelia of Tame Impala. My second favorite song on the record would have to be “Square One.” Again, Beck uses a piano groove to start the song, with great effectiveness. When the guitar and drums enter, it becomes very much evocative of The Police. It is just as danceable as the other, more poppy tracks, yet this and “Dear Life” both feel more like Beck.

My takeaway from this album is that Beck will do as Beck will do. “Colors” was a fun listen overall, and it shows Beck’s interest in trying multiple styles out for size. My main complaint is—and maybe Beck was doing this intentionally—that there are several times on the record where it seems like Beck is trying to sound more like other artists than himself. “Dreams” sounds so much like “Electric Feel” by MGMT. I love both songs, but my ear can’t help but focus on the parallels between the two. “Up All Night,” which is the record’s hit, gives me the impression that Beck is selling out. Like the earlier songs on the record, it has the sleek romp of a well-made pop song; unfortunately, however, the chorus sounds exactly like that of “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. Beck has always been a chameleon, but in this effort, his shifting colors make him sound like he is trying to become a carbon copy of today’s pop artists.

 

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