Where To Start With... Beck
For almost 25 years now, Beck Hansen – better known to most simply as Beck – has been a unique presence on the global music scene. Often broadly defined as 'alternative rock' in the early years of his career, Beck has always been a difficult artist to classify, his music incorporating almost every style you could name in a collage of samples and live performances.
His first couple of albums were low-key, lo-fi affairs released on small indie labels but when his song 'Loser' began to get airplay in the U.S., his talents were brought to the attention of David Geffen, whose record label signed him up and released his major label debut Mellow Gold.
While he was initially pigeonholed as one of the key players in the 'slacker' movement of the mid-1990s that included figures like the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, his output over the last couple of decades has shown Beck to be something of a chameleon, shifting styles from one record to the next while still managing to create a sound all of his own. In addition to the work released under his own name, Beck has also worked as a producer for the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg and former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus and collaborated with a broad range of artists from Childish Gambino to Philip Glass.
His last album, Morning Phase, was another bold creative shift, but one that earned him several Grammys, and this week he returns with its follow-up. Colors is Beck's thirteenth album overall and a very different beast to its predecessor. Where Morning Phase was full of dreamy soundscapes and relatively slow tempo tracks, Colors sets out its stall early with the funky opening title track and the upbeat vibe continues across much of the new album.
This time around Beck has teamed up with Greg Kurstin, whose band The Bird and the Bee shares a similar stylistic restless with the man himself and whose rapidly expanding list of production credits includes the likes of Adele, Foo Fighters, Sia and Liam Gallagher, to name a few, but it's clear almost immediately that he's a great fit for Beck and the pair have spent the last four years gradually experimenting and building the tracks for the new album.
Highlights include the already-released singles 'Up All Night' and 'Dear Life', as well as the euphoric 'I'm So Free' and the infectious 'Dreams', but Colors is packed from start to finish with great songs and makes for one of Beck's most danceable albums in years. More immediate and accessible than Morning Phase, but every bit as absorbing, Beck is on top form and on a roll here.
You can find the video for 'Up All Night' below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from Beck's career so far as a guide for the uninitiated...
Initially deemed ‘mediocre’ by the artist and initially pressed only on a limited vinyl run of 500 copies on its first release, ‘Loser’ began picking up some unexpected airplay in the U.S. and before long its “why don’t you kill me” hook had propelled Beck to alt-rock hero status. Much to the artist’s distaste, the song saw him labelled the ‘face of the slacker generation’, but 'Loser' nevertheless became the hit that set Beck’s career in motion and led to a deal with Geffen, who would later re-release the song and his major label debut, Mellow Gold.
'Where It's At'
Beck wanted to take a different approach to his next album for Geffen after Mellow Gold, enlisting the production skills of The Dust Brothers, largely as a result of their work on The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. Odelay became Beck’s breakthrough album, selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone and earning him a couple of Grammy awards in the process. One of those was for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for ‘Where It’s At’, one of the album’s highlights.
One of the highlights from Sea Change, ‘Paper Tiger’ features some of the album’s most starkly heartbreaking lyrics and shows a new, more emotive side to his songwriting for the first time on what might be his most personal record.
Taken from 2005’s Guero, an album that saw him hooking up with The Dust Brothers for the first tome since Odelay, Beck is back to his riff-grinding best with this anthem that bagged Beck his first No.1 since ‘Loser’ and reaffirmed his status as an artist with real longevity.
Our final pick is taken from from Beck's most recent album, 2014's Morning Phase, a kind of companion piece to his 2002 album Sea Change, except that where Sea Change was often melancholic and downbeat, Morning Phase is filled with hope, light and optimism. 'Blue Moon' is a curious mix of country, folk and mellow electronica that typifies that laid-back, blissed-out vibe on the the rest of the album and, along with the track 'Morning', is one of the highlights on an album that picked up three Grammys, including Album of the Year.