Beck's Colors, the most fun album of the year, is a reminder that pop music is dead
Beck is a chameleon. The American singer-songwriter has shape-shifted through the musical landscapes of the '90s, 2000s and now this decade, virtually remaining the same dude. Instruments, genres, styles, vocals are just tools in a sonic laboratory for him and he's the man in the white coat. Except he's never serious.
Alternative rock, soul, funk, folk, hip hop country, pop, psychedelic; Beck has done it all. He has also, somehow, pulled it off. Dancing through genres and donning different hats, you'd think of him as an affable imposter; always incognito. It has always been easy to attach him to this stoner, hippy, man-child identity; you picture him in baggy pants, sweatshirt and a beanie, with a slide-guitar slung on his shoulders, singing "I'm loser baby". And yet, he wins most of the times. The folk and country inclinations of Odelay (1996), fused with modern R&B and hip hop production, the stripped down, six-string-melancholy of Sea Change (2002) and its cousin Morning Phase (2014), and the electro-pop psychedelia that came in between, have brought Beck success, recognition and a reputation of being unique. With Colors, Beck attempts to return to a pop that is no longer popular. Fast, edgy, filled with chimey and often grungy guitars and nostalgia, Colors, in Beck's own words is neither retro nor modern. With its themes of classic MTV pop and modern electronica, Beck's latest effort falls somewhere in the middle.
You could listen through the entire album, 44 minutes in total, without so much as batting an eye. In a sense, it sounds like the perfect background album. Something you'd put on a rainy Sunday to try to feel peppy as you do other things. Or the kind you could dance to and sing along in the comfort of your privacy while doing your laundry. Of course, Colors is a conscious departure from the contemplative introspection of the critically-acclaimed Morning Phase, which can make it feel trashy in comparison. But one gets a feeling that that's exactly how Beck wanted it to sound.
The title track, "Colors" sounds like it is stuck between two eras of pop. You could just as easily hear it playing at your local pub tonight when the clock hits 10, or recall hearing something similar from a time when pop didn't need to be saved by hip hop. "Seventh Heaven" again sounds like it was the closing song on a trashy high school movie from the early 2000s, just as it faded to black. "I'm So Free" features similar vocals, but with garage-guitars in the background and an edgy chorus; a sort of an homage to millennial rock. "Dear Life" is the piano piece from the same millennial rock album you fell in love with in high school. And by now you realise the premise of the album. It is basically songs that make you feel shitty about your life today and yearn for a simpler time.
"Dear life, I'm holding on/ How long is that way before the thrill is gone?" Beck sings in a glum chorus, in an otherwise cheery song, "Dear life, come and pick me up/ Dear life, I think the button's stuck/ Dear life, I think it's gone too far/ Dear life, please lower the bar". "No Distraction" and "Dreams" maintain the seamless nature of the album, which truly shifts for the first time on "Wow". Here Beck goes back to his hip hop roots. "Wow", supported by a slick R&B beat and a dreamy, psychedelic tone, is the highlight of the album. Beck sings about "Livin' each day like it's just about to end" and "Smooth tidal waves that take you on a getaway". The songs seems to be an ode to those rare idyllic days you spend with your friends and Beck captures that irrelevant fun perfectly in the song: "Standing on the lawn doin' jiu jitsu/Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih-tzu".
"Up All Night" is a song I've heard more than any other on the album because it was on the FIFA 17 soundtrack. It probably has the album's catchiest hooks: "Just wanna stay up all night with you". And it's the song's inherent simplicity that endears you to it. The album shifts in tone words the end on "Fix Me", which is more of a stripped down shoe-gazing rock piece which reminds you of Beck's earlier work. It's the only song on the album which makes it apparent that it's about love.
Colors is short, irreverent and laden with nostalgia. It is intentionally naive and carefree. It reminds you of a purer time in both life and music. It seems Beck conjured it up within days as he was catching up with some old friends. With every other song featuring the Weeknd or Katy Perry telling you what's hip, pop music is bent and warped out of shape today. It is designed to sell beers at a pub and it constantly prompts you (to believe) that you're having fun, until you start paying attention. Beck's Colors brings back passive pop that never shoves the idea of that fun in your face. Instead it reminds you of the fun you've been missing.