Beck is an eccentric, eclectic rock star in an era sorely lacking them. His first hit single, the ubiquitous “Loser,” for which he remains most famous, positioned Beck as a Generation X spokesman of sorts (even if the song was drenched in hyperbolic irony). But his next proper release, 1996’s “Odelay,” became a favorite with both critics and alternative rock radio listeners. He has since followed with a wide-ranging array of albums, some more mainstream (“Guero”) than others (“Midnite Vultures”).
Beck’s 13th studio album, “Colors,” comes more than three-and-a-half years after “Morning Phase,” a mellow album best known as the surprise winner of the Album of the Year Grammy, winning over Beyonce’s self-titled album. which was expected to win by many.
On the surface, “Morning Phase” seemed to be ushering in a mellower, earthier version of Beck. It could still be good, but more up-front rockers such as “Devil’s Haircut” or “E-Pro” would be a thing of the past. Of course, to assume that back-to-back Beck releases would sound like they were made by the same species, much less the same artist, would be to ignore everything we know about the man.
“Colors” was unveiled a bit unconventionally. Its first single, “Dreams,” a departure from Beck's previous LP. It's a sunny bit of funk that sounds as fresh and confident as similar work by artists young enough to be Beck’s child.
The next single, “WOW,” is a bit more adventurous, for better or worse. Beck, whose previous rapping efforts have been self-aware of his limited abilities in the medium, gives a mostly sincere performance in an infectious-enough song, which could have benefited from a more gifted emcee. (Beck said he tried to get Chance the Rapper to perform on the track.)
In 2017, prior to the album’s release, came two more singles: the delightfully morose pop of “Dear Life” and the disco-infused “Up All Night.” Many songs alternate between happy and sad, but in a manner similar to prime Blur, the former single manages to be both at once. “Up All Night,” on the other hand, is just relentlessly upbeat, a summer song in every sense of the term, even if it was released at the end of the season.
The album’s non-singles also hold their own. The title track has a pop-electro-house sound, which sounds like a slightly Americanized version of latter-day Daft Punk.
“Seventh Heaven” is one man’s version of Beach Boys vocal harmonies, though not as good, which is not exactly a surprise, but it’s an admirable effort nonetheless.
The chorus of “I’m So Free” is relentlessly hectic, contrasting with the melodic verses, a 21st century spin on the Nirvana song format coming from the artist so often and erroneously compared to the grunge pioneers when “Loser” was sweeping the modern rock landscape.
“No Distraction” may not quite have the punch of the album’s highlights, but it is nevertheless a fun exercise in Strokes-style guitar riffing.
“Square One,” like “Up All Night,” is fun, lighthearted pop. The album’s closer, “Fix Me,” is a bit of a curve compared to the overall lighthearted tone of "Colors," a pretty song hearkening back to the folk undertones of “Morning Phase.”
As an avid proponent of the fun side of Beck, the version more focused on high-energy rock rather than experimentation, this was the Beck album I’ve anticipated for over a decade. This doesn’t make "Colors" dumbed-down, by any means. It simply means that Beck, now closer to 50 than 40, appears to be trying to be the pop star normally reserved for men two decades younger. He may not get there, but he has tunes worthy of it.