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Beck – Sea Change (2002)

January 8, 2015

[Album 364/1001]220px-Beckseachange

“Whatever it is, I’m against it”
– Groucho Marx, in Horse Feathers (1932)

I don’t think I’m intentionally being a contrarian here but I’m not sure why this particular Beck album is so revered.

I believe Sea Change would qualify as a ‘slow-burn’ and it definitely improves with each listen.  In fact, this evening’s play-through, while quietly doing dishes, may be close to the optimal listening setting.

The record also meets perhaps the most important Beck criterion: to modify a Forrest Gump line (speaking of almost universally revered things I’ve never fully embraced), new Beck albums are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

Did anyone predict this subdued singer-songwriter set as the follow-up to Midnite Vultures?  Probably not, and that’s part of what makes Beck so great.

It was equidistant in time and sound from his partying-like-it’s-1999 singles like Sexx Laws and his 2005 return to grooves with Guero.

For me, this would likely be my #4 Beck album, behind Mutations, Guero, and Odelay.

So I’m still very much a fan of Sea Change, just being a bit of a fussypants.

I think my main struggle with this record (oh the hardships I’ve endured!) is that it’s the first Beck record I’ve encountered that doesn’t remind me exclusively of Beck.

I recognize it’s beyond unreasonable to expect him to continually reinvent his sound, while maintaining his distinctive style and continuing to not just explore but also create new musical territory.

To be fair, he did a fine job here on everything but the final item on the checklist.

It felt very strange to listen to a Beck song and say, oh that sounds like _______.

Fast-forward a decade however to his release of Song Reader, a book of sheet music in lieu of an album in 2012?  That could only sound like Beck & it sounds brilliant to me.

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From → 2000s

31 Comments
  1. I’m a huge fan of this one – probably #3 on my own Beck list. The mood and the arrangements that really pull me in. But yeah, probably one that really became a favourite over a couple of spins …

  2. With regards this, and most of Beck’s albums. I want to really like them, but they always seem a bit cold and soul-less to me. He has some really good songs (Golden Age on this album is lovely) but just doesn’t do it for me overall. In fact, my favourite album of his is Midnite Vultures because he sounds more like Prince!

    • And sounding like Prince is never a bad thing in my books either!
      Those acoustic chords on Golden Age are quite pleasant

  3. Not a fan. But I like this record. Probably the best Scientologist making music today (Billy Sheehan too).

  4. Beck is one of those people who enters my radar on occasion and then wanders out again, sometimes for years. I had the two earliest ones (something something Soul Manure and the other one) and all up to Odelay and then just drifted. I had a ciuple of others but didn’t keep them. Never did hear this one. This is a lot of typing about nothing important to say I don’t have anything to add to this discussion.

    • That’s an addition – and it about sums up my BNL cd collection post-96 from your post the other day!

  5. I love this album. It’s my fave of his. It definitely takes time to get into though. You might find yourself feeling like you want to listen to it again even though “it’s not that great”, then again, then again .. and that’s the way it will/might win you over

    • Then in the rotation it shall stay – I think it’s at its best when I’m not focusing on it exclusively. Not background music necessarily, but something to have on while multi-tasking in some way!

      • I don’t think you should force it with “it’s-a-grower” albums, but yeah if you feel the urge to listen to it again – don’t fight it.

  6. ianbalentine permalink

    I’m totally with you on this, although I’d rate it behind The Information which I rate higher than most folks. I like Sea Change, but just that.

    • I remember liking the information’s packaging (the stickers to design your own cd cover) but I haven’t listened to it in years – it may move up my rankings with a re-listen or two!

  7. I loved it all up to Odelay and Mutations, but nothing since grabbed me. I’ve tried too but just can’t find my way in. Maybe I’m just a Loser…

  8. Bonus points for using the word ‘contrarian’ i love that.

    • Bonus marks graciously accepted!
      I haven’t explored his new stuff yet and I was surprised to learn a couple years ago that Odelay was album #5 in his discography, so I guess I haven’t heard much of the old stuff either!

      • Definitely get Stereopathetic Soulmanure and One Foot In The Grave. They bookmark Mellowgold and they’re way better.

        Remember Tom Petty on his AWESOME She’s The One soundtrack, doing a song called Asshole? That was a Beck song, came from one of those records. Brilliant stuff.

      • I foolishly never had the she’s the one soundtrack – I remember hearing it was excellent (Walls was the single?), movie was good from what I recall.

        Listening to the Petty cover as I type, a bit different from the similarly named Dennis Leary tune!

        Even though it’s a cover, Petty’s got that knack for making it sound like an original

      • Well if you ask me (and you didn’t but there you go), you should run not walk, do not pass Go and do not collect $200 unless and until you have that soundtrack. What a GREAT CD!!! I love it like a brother. Songs for it came out of the same batch of writing he did for Wildflowers, and the pair of them… words don’t even do that mid-90s Petty work justice. UNREAL.

        Haha the Dennis Leary is a totally different song!

        Oh yes, Petty is the man. Give ‘er!

      • Duly noted, purchasing the She’s the one soundtrack has just skyrocketed up the priority list!

      • Well unless I’ve seriously missed my guess (and I doubt I have), you can thank me later. Get Wildflowers while you’re at it. It’s a travesty, but both are available cheap and will repay your efforts on first listen… and then some. After that it’s all gravy.

  9. (I agree completely with KeepsMeAlive – She’s the One is one of the best Tom Petty albums out there, and it’s a great companion to Wildflowers. In addition to that Beck cover, he covers Lucinda Williams’ “Changed the Locks” and tops the original. Check it out!)

    What do you think of Beck’s 2014 album, Morning Phase? A lot of critics said it was a sequel to Sea Change in terms of tone and style, although he’s now happily married so it isn’t a break-up album. It’s great to listen to on a long car trip midway to your destination: lush and wistful.

    • Changed the locks is on as I type!

      Haven’t heard morning phase yet – heard an interview and was intrigued.

      Lush and wistful appeals to me, I’ll have to report back!

  10. I don’t get this one at all. Beck abandons his persona…and becomes faceless. I won’t lie, it bores me to tears. I just think people appreciate it because he did that unexpected 180-degrees turn, rather than because of the actual quality of the songs themselves.

    • And I’d say if the 1001 book has a bias, it tends to favour ‘re-invention’ records.

      On my first listen, it felt pretty bland to me, but it started to grow on me gradually

  11. Must give this Beck a try. These days, I alternate between Mutations and Odelay. More bonus points for correctly using the singular “criterion.”

    • Haha – thanks Steve, I enjoy a good unusual plural (cacti, formulae) so it’s nice when the singular versions are fun too!

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