Sunday, January 03, 2010
Records that Rocked the Aughts Volume 5: Beck's "Sea Change"
From the moment Beck Hansen made the scene in 1994 (just as doomed Gen-X hero Kurt Cobain was checking out), it was clear that he was an immensely talented musician with a shocking versatitlity. Here was a so-called slacker who was equally well versed in Skip James and Rick James, Hank Snow and Kurtis Blow and Yoko Ono.
Beck hopped musical genres with the frequency of a cheap ham radio, from the lo-fi major label debut Mellow Gold, through the astounding mish-mash Odelay, the twisted country blues of Mutations and the tongue-in-cheek slo-jams of Midnite Vultures. Yet everything he did seemed to have a set of quotation marks around it, as if to say "this is old-school funk done Beck-style" or "this is the Beck take on Robert Johnson." He was a serious talent who seemed reluctant to get serious.
That changed with 2002's Sea Change. Inspired by a breakup with his longtime girlfriend Leigh Limon (not to be confused with 30 Rock's Liz Lemon), Beck emerged from his fortress of irony and delivered a set of gorgeous laments with no hint of "post modern this" or "readymade that" - it was just simple pure songwriting and performance by a man in an emotional Cuisinart using his music to deal to pay some dues gettin' through. This was apparent from the very Neil Young-ish opening chords of the first track, "The Golden Age" and its heartbreaking refrain:
These days, I barely get by
I don't even try
Many have called Sea Change Beck's Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan's 1974 masterpiece which supposedly dealt with the dissolution of his marriage to wife Sara.
And while Sea Change is not quite the open wound that Blood On The Tracks is, its sense of resignation and simple beauty surely put it in the same emotional wheelhouse, as attested by this KCRW in-studio performance of "Lost Cause" and "Lonesome Tears."
Never one to wallow in self-pity, Beck took Sea Change on the road with his psychedelic psoulmates The Flaming Lips as his opening/backing band. It was a match made in rock-blog heaven, with many recordings circulating.
One of our favorites was their November 2002 peformance on Austin City Limits, which Rock Turtleneck is generously making available for download here.
Here they are from that show, doing "The Golden Age" and Odelay's "Lord Only Knows."
Sea Change was the start of a second great decade for Mr. Hansen, who has continued to deliver on the promise of Mellow Gold and Odelay. There was the 1-2 punch of Guero and The Information, then Modern Guilt, his 2008 collaboration with DJ Danger Mouse, which continues to get better with each listen. Lately he has taken to re-recording classic albums like The Velvet Underground & Nico with artists like Wilco and Feist, as part of his Record Club project, which you can check out here.
Buy Sea Change on iTunes here