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Sad Transformation


Beck - Sea Change
(Geffen Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 20, 2002

By Tony Bonyata

Forget the quirky robot moves, born-again gospel screams and hopped-up Jagger-isms. And, while we're at it, don't count on the 'cut-and-paste' lo-fi hip-hop readings from America's old songbook that this artist built his career on either. Because on Beck's latest album, appropriately enough entitled Sea Change, he has made a transformation. And a major one at that.
Whereas on his last album, Midnight Vultures, Beck slathered on the baby oil and frottaged his way into a swinging hot tub of funk and soul, on Sea Change he instead slips into a dusty, ragged pair of Depression-era sharecropper's boots and delivers a fertile collection of sad, salt-of-the-earth songs that hearken back to our country's past.
While this disc at first seems like an extension of his 1998 album Mutations - a collection of stripped-down, mostly, acoustic numbers - it soon becomes clear that this is something not only darker in tone, but also, oddly enough, more enduring.
The mood of the album is set immediately on the opening track "The Golden Age" where Beck croons "The sun don't shine, even when it's day." While the album prevails with an overpowering sense of hopelessness, it's the transformation of Beck as an artist that is so captivating. His one-time deadpan vocal deliveries have now matured into a rich, deep baritone that is actually closer to the early blues and country artists that originally influenced his own music, than those from the hip-hop community, who also made an equally huge impact early on in his career.
The folkie front porch instrumentations throughout the album are sparse and harrowing. From the rich string section and stinging guitar that Beck brow beats into submission with his dusty, droning vocal on "Paper Tiger" to the simple country acoustic flavorings on "Lost Cause" and "Guess I'm Doin' Fine" as well as the alt-dirges "Round The Bend" and "Nothing I Haven't Seen" Beck's sorrowful compositions cry from so far down in the well of hopelessness that even his early signature lyric "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?" seems like a lighthearted love sonnet by comparison.
Never has despair, sadness and melancholy been such a pleasure. And like many of America's best musicians throughout the last century Beck proves that change is not only good but necessary.

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