Of all of the acts of Generation X 90s alternative rock, few have emerged as unscathed and evolved as one Beck Hansen. The once “Loser” emerged from the 90s trying to shake off the crazy Cheese Whiz and goofy sex come-ons a more somber adult with 2002’s quite-literal Sea Change. After using said collection of heartbroken modern-folk rock to establish grown-up credibility, he spent the next twelve years trying to connect that with his freaky side. Guero made him cool again, The Information used that coolness to let Beck speak about the world around him and Modern Guilt made him fall back in love with guitars.
Then came 2014’s Morning Phase, a turn back to the soulful, self-reflective folk rock of Sea Change but with more lush soundscapes than in Brian Wilson’s head. It was Beck’s most grown-up musical statement and he was rewarded with the most grown-up award a musician can get: the Grammy for Album of the Year (over Beyonce, mind you). So what’s Beck’s new mission statement now that he’s pretty much achieved every form of musical credibility he could possibly earn?
“SHUT UP AND DANCE!!!”
Beck has always looked like the most lanky, skeletal nerd to ever bust a move when he gets his groove on and his unabashed acceptance of that is what many people love about him. There’s a reason many say his best album is his “R&B” and “funk” album Midnite Vultures. So surprise surprise that at age 47, Beck still knows how to throw a party.
Colors, his 13th studio album, is a very lucky entry for him: bright, funky, and bumping with boundless energy, Colors is the most fun Beck has had on an album in over a decade. Produced by Beck and Greg Kurstin (who’s been on a hot streak this year with Halsey, Foo Fighters and Liam Gallagher), the 11 tracks here hustle and bustle with crisp guitars, boom-bap drums and funky bass lines.
Mix Hall & Oates with Duran Duran, and you’ve got the glittering groove of the title track, “Seventh Heaven” and “No Distraction” with its hand-clap drums and glittering synthesizers. “I’m So Free” and “Dear Life” is some strong power pop Rivers Cuomo will probably kick himself over. Even “Dreams,” which was so good it got him onstage with Taylor goddamn Swift, has so much punch and energy to it that it’s almost stunning to hear it coming from Beck. And those Beck purists still waiting for one more Dust Brothers collab, the stoner-rap flow of “Wow” and the slow jam “Fix Me” should be a fine substitute.
In the studio, Beck has always surrounded himself with fellow audiophiles (Danger Mouse, Nigel Godrich, the Dust Brothers) that would rather submerge themselves in trippy sound cocktails than make its artists the prime focus. Beck is an outstanding personality partially because he blends in so well with the music he makes. Colors is no exception, as Beck seamlessly blends into the background grooves and skittering vocal effects of “Up All Night” and the title track. His voice is still very strong, especially when layered with his own background melodies on “Seventh Heaven.” His pseudo-rap delivery is still uniquely his own even if his actual singing chops are starting to shake in his middle age. It’s only noticeable because Beck is singing so many mostly-party songs throughout Colors.
It’s an upbeat record and Beck tries to keep his lyrics that way. “Dear Life” was supposedly written during the Morning Phase sessions and it mostly shows (“Dear life, I’m holding on/How long must I wait/Before the thrill is gone”). He’s reflecting on all the success he’s had trying to figure out what’s left of him besides the material things (“You drove your Rolls into the swamp/You stole away like a thief, reeling from the sticker shock/Of the price they put upon your soul/You buy it back from the burning ashes of the devil you know”).
For the rest of the album, it’s a colorful party through and through for anybody. It’s for those in the midlife crises (“I see the colors and all the kids going home/Night is crawling into the day”), those looking to repair lost love (“But I don’t want to forget what we’ve been through/Just to save us both from what we knew/Losing our way, sometimes, it’s cruel”) or just looking for a good time (“Now we’re pissin’ in the wind cause it’s so pine fresh”).
Beck’s just looking for a good time and he succeeds in spades. In the doom and gloom of 2017 fall, Colors is exactly the kind of pick-up the world needs. It’s a shame this wasn’t a summertime album considering how bright and fun it is. The most interesting thing about Colors is how effortless it feels, like something Beck has always been able to make. While it may have taken him awhile to finally let loose, it’s nice to hear that Beck still knows how to have fun.