CD: Beck - Colors The Californian experimental-rock genius goes pop
Colors, the follow-up to Beck's meditative masterpiece Morning Phase, couldn't come as more of a contrast. It's a glossy, high-energy LP designed to make you dance, not think. The inspiration came partly from Pharrell Williams's mega-hit "Happy". When Beck heard it, in 2013, he was blown away by how exuberant it sounded. It made him wonder if he could write something with the same feel-good factor.
For four long years, Beck has been working on the formula. The result is not merely a cheery album, it's a studiously cheery album, full of choppy guitars, smooth synths and complex drums. All instruments were played by Beck and his friend Greg Kurstin, who also shared some of the writing and production duties. Given Beck's genius and Kurstin's recent successes with Sia and Adele, you might have reasonably expected Colors to be perfectly slick.
Ultimately, though, there's just too much going on to create a simple, happy mood. The album's best moments are the least complicated. "Dear Life", based around a Beatles-style piano lick, is refreshingly straightforward. The album's other standout tracks "Up All Night" and "Dreams" are centred around a single musical element. "Up All Night" has a chorus that sounds like Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling", while "Dreams" has a killer guitar riff.
Other songs, like "Seventh Heaven" and "No Distraction", are much less focussed. Sonically, they're a hotchpotch. Lyrically, they're just as confusing. There was a time when Beck's free-associating lyrics sounded bewilderingly cool. Now couplets like "With the pharaoh’s curse/ The apple flower doggerel" just sound like gibberish. Of course, some may argue that that's part of the fun. But it never quite feels like that. Colors may have a number of winning moments, but overall it just doesn't make you feel quite as good as you'd hoped.