Beck – Sea Change
By Marshall Thorne Friday, 16 Mar 2007

It can be dangerous to take something too seriously. Beck took this risk and departed for new shores on this release. His earlier material is playful, jovial, tongue in cheek… for the most, party songs with twists to make things interesting. Sea Change is a more reflective album. The beats and samples from his first two albums and Midnight Vultures are gone, replaced by live band performances.

And this is where I think some important strengths of the album lie! The string arrangements by his father are terrific. I’m not too positive wether his bass player (Justin Meldal-Johnsen) writes the bass lines, but the slammin undercurrent in Paper Tiger sounds spontaneous. Even at the beginning of End of the Day, he plays a really subtle line that hops back and forth a major 7th from the root. It’s fresh (pretty unconventional bass line, but it fits well)!

I really enjoyed the production that godrich helped conjure up, too. I’m a sucker for overboard reverbs and echos! (haha)
Allthough I think he gets some nice help, I don’t mean to short change Beck too badly. He has always taken plenty of liberties with the production and certainly has a good track record in picking his crew.

The album doesn’t thrill me at a mile a minute intensity, but even the more basic arrangements have some interesting choices of harmony. Yes, the less conventional songs are my favorites here:

Paper Tiger breaks out some serious funk while keeping the ominous undercurrent. The heavy handed strings, both written and recorded with a considerable Eastern influence, lend the tune considerable power. This arrangement has been compared to Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. Despite the obvious similarities, I believe beck still managed to take the instrumentation in a new and fruitful direction.

Round the Bend is a slow moving number with solo acoustic guitar backed by a beautiful, nebulous string section. Again, I’ve heard people point out a Nick Drake influence in Sea Change, and this song has an arrangement and mood that’s very similar to Nick’s “River Man”. However, I don’t think it would be fair to imply that these are ripoffs. One obvious difference in this last case is that Nick’s song is written in 5/4 while Beck’s is in 4/4.

Little One is a song he wrote years ago. Sure enough, you can hear the grunge shining through (… hehe). But the odd, chromatic sounding chord movements and clean electric guitar in the verses do reflect the theme of the song (which is that of the entire album)! Unfortunately, I don’t really dig the coda section.

Does anyone else think the lyric “Already dead to me now… already dead to me now…, cuz’ it feels like I’m watchin’ somethin’ die” is redundant and clumsy sounding?
I won’t nitpick further, but I believe the record does have some small flaws. And I’m really not the biggest Beck fan. But this disc is still solid and covers the subject matter very satisfactorily! I’m giving it a confident “Great” rating.

One Response to “Beck – Sea Change”

  1. Zach Says:

    this is by far my favorite beck album. his discography is wildly inconsistent (though none of it is really bad), but this one always strikes a chord for me. very sad and touching, at the same time.

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