The cleaned up and edited version of this review is available to read over at Relight Magazine. Check it out there first! Below is my original, unedited version. However, it also contains a review of the physical record itself, along with photos.
Colors, released in 2017, is Beck’s long overdue thirteenth studio album. After being originally slated for release in fall 2016, then delayed numerous times, Colors finally surfaced this year. If some of you need any more of a reason to hate Trump, Beck has cited the political climate as one reason for the postponement. He felt it wasn’t the right time for an upbeat, dance record from him. A year later the world isn’t looking much better, but is there really ever a perfect time to release a fun, carefree album when looking through a political lens? No, and I’m glad that these songs got to see the light of day. Beck has always been better at introspection anyway, not making sense of the world around him.
Colors opens with the bouncy title track, which is a bold move for Beck. At first listen it sounds like any other pop song churned out by the music industry. It’s the kind of hook that could be sung by whoever the big name is at the time. The pan flutes and pitched vocals in the chorus are fresh for Beck, but have already been done and done again. However, a closer listen reveals Beck’s unique touch. His modest delivery and production, aided by Greg Kurstin, keep a busy song from becoming overwhelming. His audience is used to adapting to whatever genre he may be interested in for any given album, but Colors might be the hardest for many fans to swallow. No one in the ’90s would’ve guessed this self-proclaimed “loser” would be singing pop albums on Capitol Records in twenty-five years.
After the lush, string-heavy Morning Phase took the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year, another somber follow-up would have made sense. Beck isn’t one to release two of the same albums in a row though. The same people wondering who he was back when he was trending for “stealing” Beyoncé’s Grammy will probably be enjoying the inevitable radio hits from this album.
Those that are ready to embrace Beck’s poptimism are in for more than a few standout tracks. “Seventh Heaven” is a natural earworm and has a timeless hook. It’s not hard to imagine this, above all other tracks, becoming a staple of Beck’s live shows. He knows how to write a memorable, sing-along worthy, chorus (see “Loser” and “Where It’s At”) and “Seventh Heaven” fills that hole in Colors.
With “I’m So Free” Beck starts to sound a little more familiar. Quick, slashed guitar licks and a fast-paced, spoken pre-chorus help the song stand out. “No Distraction” follows the same general formula to about the same level of success. “Dear Life” is built around a piano (not keyboard) hook and is accented by several brief, yet piercing, guitar solos. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a new Paul McCartney album. This is, however, the biggest problem Colors faces. It all sounds like Beck, but for the most part lacks his personal flair. That’s what made both oddball albums like Odelay and relatively straightforward, acoustic driven albums like Sea Change stand the test of time.
The album centers around the two singles that had already been out for over a year, “Dreams” and “Wow”. Both are too good to be discarded as one-off singles. “Dreams”, which originally was released in 2015, appears as an alternate mix with the bridge getting the third set of lyrics I’ve heard. Out of everything on the album, “Dreams” has the most staying power. Choppy guitar and a funky bass line rises above the mix. On “Wow” Beck embraces his hip-hop side and fleshes it out with as many nonsense rhymes as he can. It’s the one song on the album that takes a risk and branches out from the blander pop production qualities. That alone makes it one of only a few songs that are worth coming back to years from now.
Colors is full of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio, at a sporting event, or in the background of your local Chili’s (or its equivalent). The chorus of “Up All Night” is pleasant enough but its vague pop declarations only help it fade into the background. “Dreams” is a staple of the album, but has already been played to death for those that still listen to the radio. It’s not necessarily a totally negative thing though. The way I see it, if you’re stuck shopping on a Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t you rather hear Beck over the department store speakers than Train?
Beck is at his best when he’s blending genres, pushing his boundaries, and making melodies no one else would think of. Colors doesn’t really play to any of his strengths, aside from genre hopping a few times, but what it does do is see Beck expanding his already unique, expansive, and solid discography. It’s a middling effort when placed in line with his other records, but at this point Beck deserves to have some fun. He’s nearing 50 in age and has shown he still has plenty of youthfulness left in him. I’m sure we’ll hear another Morning Phase or Sea Change in the future, but Colors shows there’s the potential for another Odelay or Midnite Vultures too.
Pressing Details: This is the “Indie Exclusive” pressing on translucent yellow vinyl released by Fonograf Records and Capitol Records. It’s an excellent pressing and sounds clean, clear, and bright. There’s no surface noise or other sound issues. The record itself even comes in a nice poly-lined sleeve. It’s packaged in a single pocket jacket and comes with an insert that folds out to show the complete set of lyrics. The “Indie Exlcusive” pressing features one of quite a few different cover variants as well. The vinyl pressing of Colors is well worth the price for the pressing quality, cover variant, and lyrics in the insert. Copies ordered online or bought in store of this particular variant also came with a Beck slipmat while supplies lasted.
The “Indie Exclusive” pressing pictured below might still be available through your local record store or you can purchase the standard pressing from Amazon here.