Ah, the musical chameleon that is Beck Hansen. After a debut single that blew up all over the place seemingly proclaiming the voice of a generation and a time ("Loser"), he somehow wrangled himself into a deal with Geffen that allowed him to release things on the side as well as his more publicized albums the major label. His first couple years were prolific, churning out not only the album Mellow Gold, but psychedelic folk albums like Stereopathic Soul Manure and One Foot In The Grave. He then released the hugely popular Odelay (still my favorite to date) with the Dust Brothers, before cooling his jets a bit.
That calming period found him releasing the calming Mutations, but he quickly followed it up with the over-the-top white-boy funk album of Midnite Vultures (which has grown on me considerably since I first reviewed it). In the years since that release came out, he again took a bit of a break, dating some Hollywood types, etc. Sea Changes is his follow-up, and those hoping for another upbeat release will probably find themselves a bit dissappointed. In pacing, it's most similar to Mutations, but instead of being a stripped-down affair, it's one of Becks most textured releases to date.
Even with all these textures, though, there's something about Sea Changes that doesn't really connect with me. Perhaps it's the overwhelming feel of melancholy on the disc, and the pacing that seems to move at the same rate with each song. As mentioned above, the album itself sounds gorgeous, with layers of strings and lots of flourishes of beautiful instrumentation that interjects into tracks at different points. While that's all fine and dandy, there's very little that I can even remember about the album after it's done playing. All the ear candy in the world adds up to sort of an overproduced, sapped-down album that sounds really nice but fails to stick.
There are some moments of hope on the album, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them. "Little One" picks up the pace a little bit towards the end of the album and Beck actually raises his vocals above the world-weary baritone that he carries on the rest of the album. The track itself blossoms with some excellent guitar that's allowed to have some edge to it, and all the trimmings add something to the track rather than sounding like some dreamy attempt at filling in the weak spots.
Likewise, "Paper Tiger" rumbles along with a thick pitter-patter of programmed beats and some dirty guitar, while orchestral swells swing in very loudly at moments, threatening to completely overtake the track. Although it doesn't have a whole lot of dynamics, "Round The Bend" clocks in as one of the most touching tracks that Beck has recorded to date, with just his vocals swimming in a bed of acoustic guitar and string washes. Overall, though, the album is just so glossy that it hits my ears and then slides out again like it has a teflon coating. Everything is recorded to absolute perfection, and even Becks trademark scruffy vocals are barely anywhere to be heard. It's not that he has to be dissonant and crazy for me to enjoy him again (although I wouldn't argue if he wanted to team up with the Dust Brothers again), but he seems to be losing a bit of the unpredictable edge that I liked about him so much. Maybe he's mellowed out for good, but perhaps he'll surprise me yet.