Sea Change


Geffen Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


With the exception of Bob Dylan, no other contemporary artist has worn so many guises in recent memory as Beck. He has played the "one-hit wonder" boy when he released "Loser," he played earnest country-rocker with his bootlegs, namely One Foot In The Grave, alt-rock icon ( Odelay is widely-regarded as one of the best albums of the '90s) and with Midnite Vultures, he tried to play an ironic, funky, sex-obsessed party boy with mixed results. And even though his breakup with designer Leigh Limon was by no means staged, it only seemed inevitable that he would add "breakup album architect" to his expansive resume.

Of all the well-known breakup albums in rock, Sea Change is the most resigned of the bunch. There's no "step up to the batting cage" disses to former mates, such as Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind" or even Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River." Nor is the album overtly self-lacerating, like Liz Phair's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Exile in Guyville or Tool's "Sober." Nope. Basically, Sea Change is more about nursing the wounds and coming to the assumption that the love is gone and it ain't never coming back.

Those who were surprised at Beck's abrupt turn with Sea Change should have seen it coming. Even in his early releases, some of Beck's songs were heavily drenched in folk roots. His underrated gem Mutations is his folksiest and probably his finest hour. It's probably without coincidence that both albums were recorded by the same producer: Nigel Godrich. With Sea Change, Beck's music brings comparisons to Gordon Lightfoot and sunny, but extremely depressing ballads of the '70s. Beck even made his breakup a family affair by bringing in his father, David Campbell, to do string arrangements for some of the tracks.

Lyrically, Sea Change is mostly dead-on honest. With such soul-baring come the occasional clichés, such as the heartfelt "Lonesome Tears," where Beck makes "this love" the subject of the song. His earnest voice pulls it off, but if the lyrics were on a Linkin Park album, critics would have torn it to shreds. Far more successful is "Lost Cause," where Beck's vagueness is replaced by the concrete observations of "your sorry eyes, they cut to the bone / they make it hard to leave you alone." Ditto for "Round the Bend," a great song that Gordon Lightfoot should have recorded.

Some fans have been reluctant to embrace Sea Change for good reason. Beck has always been a master of irony, and to have such an emotionally-wrenching album dropped in listener's laps right after Midnite Vultures, it's easy to be skeptical. Will this just be one of Beck's phases? Once he gets over the loss of this breakup, will he do an about-face and go punk? Who knows. It's hard to imagine the pain in "End of the Day" and "Already Dead" to be anything but legitimate. And even if it wasn't, few confessional artists could make a bummer-themed album as beautiful as this one.

Rating: A-

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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen Records, and is used for informational purposes only.