Colors is like diet Beck. It’s the Beck record no one listening to Odelay in ’96 would ever have believed existed. It’s the lemonade stand on the too hot day and the ice melts reducing the potency of the product. It’s the Kool-Aid made on the wrong ratios. It's weak, but not in the songwriting per se, but rather, it’s weak in its execution.
Average things come to those who wait. This record was supposed to come out as some sort of palette cleanser after the Morning Phase. Three years is a long time to wait for something that is this average, like standing thirsty in the desert and someone brings you a Fresca. But at least we have the first Beck record my mom would like? One can only wonder the record we could have gotten if Beck didn’t win that Grammy. Was he tricked or steered into this pop record by suits with dollar signs for irises? Who knows, but it comforts a bit to think that way, though.
The title track is desperate for air but its production compresses all good ideas into a package too small and sterile like a Lunchable. The solo sounds like its being played on a pitch-shifted, note capable midi didgeridoo. That sounds kind of cool though, but its not, its very cheesy, and by the third appearance, annoying. The melodies are fine, but they drown under Top 40 production. “Seventh Heaven” is about as tacky as the late 90’s WB drama it shares its name with. The chorus pops with Max Martin elevation, but the refrain repeats as desperate. And man are these songs long — like what is this? 1998 when everyone thought dance singles had to be 4 minutes long?
“I’m So Free” painfully can’t decide if it’s a pop rap song or some sort of J-Pop rock rave — it misses the target on both. Who is this Starbucks-checkout-core song for? It surely isn’t for Beck fans. It’s the kind of song you hear when clicking on an artist playing at Lollapalooza you have never heard and make sure to miss their set. How is Beck singing this song? How did this happen?
The two absolute non-adherents to my POV are the songs we heard first — “Dreams” and “Wow”. “Wow” debuted last year with a bonkers video was like the Avalanches on crack. It was divisive, to say the least, but Beck sounded more alive and free than ever. It’s the best beat-driven track he has released since the 90’s with the possible exception of “1000 BPM” which everyone slept on, probably including you. Not at all surprisingly, “Wow” was not produced by Greg Kurstin who produced almost all of Colors, lending his sleek synths and perfect drum sounds that would manage to get you an A+ in an electronic production class but can’t muster up a fraction of the energy on either “Wow” or the slacker drums in Beck’s classic single “Loser.”
“Dreams” we first heard way back in June of 2015. This version has been scrubbed of possible offenders — the abrasive lyrics on the bridge of “Dreams” replaced by something more family friendly, showing perhaps the target market? What Morning Phase did to the Sea Change sound, Colors does 100x to some midpoint between Midnite Vultures and the Danger Mouse neutered Modern Guilt.
Colors is all festival-ready, commercial-ready, rock. We all wondered how our 90’s heroes would look 20 years later. Thom Yorke looks better than ever. Billy Corgan is a hero to some, a villain to others. Eddie Vedder is like our generation’s Bruce or Mick Jagger or something. Beck is still our generation’s David Bowie, but unluckily, his last few years have mirrored Bowie’s own unfortunate mid-80’s. Here’s to hoping Beck has something as good as Earthling in him in a few years.
On “Square One” he references the title of the record amidst a stock falsetto. Beck has long been championed as a chameleon, but at what point do we admit that perhaps that’s no longer true? Morning Phase was a clear rehash of Sea Change and it won the Grammy that Sea Change should have won, instead it went to Norah Jones. I could write a bunch more disses on the rest of the songs, they are all equally bad, except perhaps “Dear Life” but that’s only compared with what’s left here, not with the rest of Beck’s outstanding discography.
Beck’s 2006 record The Information unfolded with repeated listens that few were willing to wait for. His utopia of post-pop became a mostly forgotten record that is perhaps mainly remembered for its DIY sticker cover on a grid on faded greens. You pulled out the sticker pages and decorated the cover to your liking giving each fan a unique rendition of a great record. The cover illustrated a pop record that could inspire many different kinds of devotion if you were patient and let it.
Colors is the opposite of The Information. The first time you listen to it, you know its average and you keep listening, begging it to give something that hasn’t had its edges shaved off by a production style that strips all weird aesthetics in favor of aerodynamics that no one wanted and no one will like. Often while listening, you will have to remind yourself that it is playing, because it truly is neither good nor bad — it simply is. C