I love Beck. I say that about a lot of artists, but I really mean this one. While I was still in my “classic rock is the only acceptable form of popular music” phase, Beck was one of the few post-1980 musicians I actually liked. His breakout hit “Loser” is an all-time favorite. His celebrated follow-up album Odelay was not only great, but introduced Beastie Boys-style sampling to an even broader audience. I love almost everything he’s done, from the funk of 1999’s Midnite Vultures to the muted psychedelia of 2008’s Modern Guilt. He’s a weird, eccentric guy with an extremely diverse catalog, incorporating almost every genre under the sun.
But Morning Phase is not good. Sorry.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s probably his worst album. It didn’t deserve the Grammy for Album of the Year. Let me be clear: it’s not bad. It’s actually quite pleasant, with a few tracks that are undeniably beautiful (“Morning” and “Waking Light” are highlights for me). But stacked up against Beck’s body of work, it’s just incredibly bland.
The inferiority of Morning Phase is especially apparent when you compare it to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, which is similarly melancholy, with its slow, swooning songs, sweeping strings, and sad melodies. But Sea Change is impeccably gorgeous. Many heralded Morning Phase as the sequel to Sea Change, which is very true, but instead of maintaining the same quality as its predecessor, it plays like a collection of Sea Change B-sides.
The narrative for Morning Phase will now forever include a chapter not only on winning a Grammy, but on the diss it received from Kanye West after doing so. I’ll spare you an in-depth look into what I think of Kanye’s beef with Beck at the Grammys, because I’d rather talk about Beck’s awesome songs, but in summary:
Let’s not talk about the Grammys or Morning Phase any more though, because overall, Beck is incredible. Check out 10 of Beck’s superior songs.
1. Think I’m In Love | The Information (2006)
Such a sweet and simple Beck song, but probably my all-time favorite. It encapsulates the uneasy, adolescent feeling of being head-over-heels for someone, but also being unsure if you’re just out of your mind. Plus, its bass line and lush piano are perfect.
2. Where It’s At | Odelay (1996)
A song full of catchphrases, much in the same vein as “Loser,” from the more prominent (“I got two turntables and a microphone!”) to the less prominent (“That’s beautiful, Dad!”).
3. Qué Onda Guero | Guero (2005)
Beck grew up in L.A., where he was often called “guero” (basically, white boy). He demonstrates his mastery of Mexican slang on this hilarious track, with a guy in the background name-checking L.A. geography, like “¡Allá en el Griffith Park!” I love Beck’s ability to do both serious and frivolous, and do them both well.
4. The Golden Age | Sea Change (2002)
The opening track on Sea Change, the “prequel” to Morning Phase. It’s heart-achingly beautiful.
5. Gamma Ray | Modern Guilt (2008)
Danger Mouse, producer of albums from Gorillaz to the Black Keys, steps behind the boards to give “Gamma Ray” a dark, psychedelic, but catchy feel.
6. I Won’t Be Long | Single (2013)
Released on its own just two years ago, “I Won’t Be Long” sounds amazing on a good pair of headphones. Whoever thought that the slacker from “Loser” would come to write such great melodies?
7. Go It Alone | Guero (2005)
Fun fact: Jack White played the bass on this song. It’s awesome.
8. Mixed Bizness | Midnite Vultures (1999)
Beck does funk.
9. Lonesome Tears | Sea Change (2002)
Another exquisite beauty from Sea Change. This is what Morning Phase could have been like!
10. Jackass | Odelay (1996)
A chill, slow number on the mostly-frenetic Odelay. I’ve rambled on and on about Beck’s melodies, but his deep, meandering vocal line here is a subtle one that will end up getting stuck in your head.