The one thing that people never expect Beck Hansen to do is to play it straight.
A maverick musical magpie, Beck has over his 20-year career veered off into nu-folk, Mississippi blues, hip-hop, country, funk and electro-hued pop noir. He never even recorded his last “album”, 2012’s Song Reader, instead publishing the notations of the songs in book form.
Yet he has spoken lately of wishing to jettison the satirical post-modern irony at the core of his art in favour of something more heartfelt, and Morning Phase is a rudimentary, plain-speaking album. Shorn of sonic trickery, it is a confessional reverie of a record, a regret-laden long, dark night of the soul.
Beck has spoken of it as a companion piece to his acclaimed 2002 break-up album Sea Change, despite nowadays being a reportedly happily married family man. Loss and longing certainly seem to echo through laments like Say Goodbye, Don’t Let It Go and the plangent ache of Turn Away.
The standout track, the epic, episodic Wave, finds Beck intoning “isolation” over swells of melodramatic electronics, and could be Tim Buckley at his most bereft and desolate. By contrast, the sweetly melodic Heart Is A Drum suggests Simon & Garfunkel at their most plaintively melancholic.
Who knew? Maybe beneath all the clever feints, double bluffs and musical left-turns, Beck Hansen just wanted to be a simple folky all along.