Let me explain. When I was living in New York City I would always tell people who came to visit that Manhattan does have public restrooms: they’re called Starbucks–and they’re everywhere. For the price of a cup of coffee (or free, if you want to be that guy) you have access to a somewhat tidy restroom to tinkle in. I say “somewhat,” because the cleanliness of a Starbucks bathroom is inversely proportionate to the kind of traffic it sees. For example, if you find yourself in an emergency on, say, 8th Avenue and 34th Street (right outside of Madison Square Garden) you’ll have several Starbucks’ to choose from, but you’ll also be entering into a cesspool of death and there’s no getting out of that. On the other hand, if nature calls 10 blocks downtown in Chelsea, you’re prospects are looking much better.
So why bring this up? Well, for one thing, it’s incredibly useful information. One day you just might thank me (or wish you’d listened if you find yourself in Times Square trying to make while hovering over the bowels of hell–if there’s a more woebegone fate, I don’t know what it is) and while your in one of these bathrooms chances are you’ll be hearing Beck’s Morning Phase because this happens to be the natural habitat for his music.
For some reason Starbucks has gotten into the music distribution business–I can’t explain it and I haven’t the foggiest what type of person would actually buy a record at Starbucks. The point is, they sell records. As you’ve probably noticed, the music they sell is of a certain ilk; markedly less edgy than the stuff you hear about on NPR, but slightly more dangerous than Barry Manilow. With that in mind, I suspect Beck’s new album, Morning Phase, will be in every Starbucks in New York City this week. It will be played at a modest volume, just loud enough to mask everyone’s explosive bathroom activities, but quiet enough to order a latte without raising your voice too much.
There isn’t a whole lot more to say about Morning Phase other than that. It’s safe. Meticulously crafted, but safe nonetheless. I could spend another 300, maybe 400 words going into the minutia of this thing, but the fact is the entire enterprise can be summed up in one sentence: Morning Phases sounds exactly like Sea Change, but nowhere near as good.
So I hope you can forgive me for being a little late with this review. Even more than that I hope Jon (the benevolent, bearded overlord of this website) can forgive me. I told him that I would have this review for him on Sunday. I did not, obviously. And yes, if we’re being honest, I wasn’t exactly pumped to express to the world my disappointment in the new Beck record. But even more important than that, I must confess the real reason that my review was late. You see, something much more interesting than Beck was happening in my life:
I just got a really decent sound system: a vintage Pioneer record player, a 1973 Marantz 2220B receiver and gorgeous all wood encased Jensen speakers.
My entire living room is basically a palace for aural orgies now. For those of you with a nice stereo, you know what I’m talking about. This is a lifestyle game-changer. How could I possibly be expected to listen to (or for that matter write about) Beck’s Morning Phase when I’ve got Outkast’s Aquemini and D’Angelo’s Voodoo on vinyl?
Perhaps, I’ve been unfair to Beck. He’s had a solid career. That’s the reason I wanted to review Morning Phase in the first place–I was hoping it would be an exclamation point on his work or maybe even a rebirth for him. The truth is, it’s fine, boring, but fine. And after I had finished listening to Outkast and D’Angelo I thought to myself, “I should probably get crackin’ on this Beck review. Then again, I could check out this Pointer Sisters record that I bought for a dollar and see what this is all about?“
I’ll give you two guesses as to what I chose. I stand by my choice too, because instead of droning on about a limp-dicked effort by a 90s icon I can instead enlighten you on a lost classic. Break Out may not be solid all the way through, but the first half is all killer–80s synth pop at it’s absolute best. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m not aware of the schmaltziness inherent in the Pointer Sisters, they succeed because of it. I think. All I can tell you is this, “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I want you, want you,” to check out the Pointer Sisters, really bad.
This shit makes me wanna fucking flash dance fool!
Sorry, Jon! I love you, buddy!
Rating for Beck’s Morning Phase: 3/5
is a freelance writer and hipster emeritus. His work has appeared in various impressive publications including the one you’re enjoying now and he has his own music blog where he reviews music both old and new: oldnewborrowedblew.blogspot.com