Whether he was tackling retro funk (for 1999’s Midnight Vultures) or new-school grunge (2005’s Guero), Beck has never struggled to keep people guessing. Over the course of his two-decade-long career, he’s proved himself to be Los Angeles’ ever-evolving musical heir, and on Morning Phase he dishes up a curveball redux that both hits and misses. Following on the heels of multiple producer projects, Morning Phase immediately harkens back to Beck’s 2002 sad-sap opus, Sea Change. Here the guitars and pianos shoulder the bulk of the songs, and the vocals are upfront, awash in painterly organ tones and lush harmonies. Production-wise, Morning Phase may be Beck’s strongest to date; the textures on tracks like “Heart Is a Drum” and “Blackbird Chain” are intricate, resonant, and beautifully balanced. But if lyrics are meant to be the star here, Morning Phase simply doesn’t hold a candle to Sea Change’s heart-bearing and gut-wrenching immediacy. “Don’t leave me on my own,” the singer intones on “Blue Moon,” sounding already resigned in the outcome. At 43, it’s no doubt Morning Phase is reflective of a man who’s lived and learned. The struggle now is turning that wisdom into a compelling listen.


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