With song titles such as “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” “Lonesome Tears” and “Lost Cause,” Sea Change shows the tender side of the previously peppy Beck in a way that some fans may not be comfortable. The undisputed pop hook master of the ’90s penned most of the songs for his latest disc after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, and it shows. Even veteran breakup songster Chris Isaak would have a tough time matching the utter dreariness of this one.
Worst of all, Beck’s lyrics suffer terribly on Sea Change as he falls into a string of sophomoric platitudes on song after song. On “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” Beck laments, “It’s only lies that I’m living/It’s only tears that I’m crying/It’s only you that I’m losing/Guess I’m doing fine.” On “Lonesome Tears” he continues, “Lonesome tears/I can’t cry them anymore/I can’t think of what they’re for/Oh they ruin me every time.”
Sure, he was going through a tough time, and everyone has written their share of lame breakup poetry (don’t deny it), but this is Beck we’re talking about — the guy that sent listeners on a frenzied lyrics search with a line of Spanish (“Soy un perdidor”) inserted into his first hit and the guy that used possibly the most recognizable double entendre (two turntables and a microphone) in the last decade. Breakup or no breakup, Beck is held to a higher standard.
Several of the tracks are so similar it’s difficult to distinguish between them. “The Golden Age” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine” have nearly identical chord progressions, and no less than four songs feature a slow, finger-picking acoustic guitar intro. But they’re still all good songs.
To his credit, Sea Change still manages to be a pleasant album despite the frequently trite lyrics. Though he’s employing a much simpler musical style than his fans are used to, the tracks are addictively melodic and stand up nicely after repeated spins. “Paper Tiger” offers up the most Beck-like beat on the album, giving a touch of spunk to otherwise morose vocals. “It’s All in Your Mind” also stands out, and though it fits musically with most of the tracks on Sea Change, the tune was actually first released on One Foot in the Grave in 1995.
More so than anything, it seems that Beck has created a new style for himself on Sea Change. Though he stays close to the folksy edge present on all of his albums, this one is far more subdued than his previous work. It represents, in a way, the creation of the anti-Beck: one that is no longer hip, upbeat or clever. He’s simply crafting pleasant tunes for laid back listening.
And if that’s not enough for the fans of the old Beck, you can rest assured that his next album won’t be quite as dreary. Unless he goes through another bad breakup, that is.
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