Few artists have as wide-ranging a sonic palette as Beck – from the folk gems of Sea Change and Morning Phase to the funk-rock/R&B/Country meshing on Midnite Vultures, just about every genre has been touched, with his sophomore effort Odelay being emblematic of this. After 24 years and 12 studio albums, the multi-instrumentalist has made his first pop record, resulting in the most jarring left-turn in his eclectic discography to date.
It bears all the hallmarks of an album that’s been in development since 2013 – instead of creating trends, he’s merely imitating outdated ones. It’s hard to imagine a more un-Beck-like song than ‘Wow’, a playful cut that blends elements of trap and hip hop, bordering on parody when he dispassionately delivers the lines “let me get it like/wow/like right now”. Remarkably, it’s the standout of the four teaser tracks – ‘Up All Night’ has a similar riff to the one on lead single ‘Dreams’ – not only is there a commonality with their inclusion on FIFA soundtracks, but both are mind-numbingly bland, despite the latter’s new remix.
Colors still showcases the singer’s penchant for incorporating numerous genres, but they’re consistently underwhelming here – ‘I’m So Free’ is a woeful piece of power-pop that feels two decades late, resulting in some comical irony between the bland production and lyrics; “I’m so free/I’m so free now”. He channels his inner McCartney on the jaunty ‘Dear Life’, with the terrible piano medley only being somewhat remedied by some decent lyricism, detailing a mini existential crisis.
There are redeeming qualities – ‘No Distraction’ plays like a long-lost Police song, with the quasi-reggae riff creating one of the more memorable hooks on the project. Lamenting the disconnect between real-life and digital interactions, it’s one of the few tracks in which Beck seems somewhat passionate, and is all the better for it. It acts as a rare highlight after a decent couple of opening tracks – ‘Seventh Heaven’ is an unashamedly upbeat new-wave cut that would sound at home on a Coldplay album, whilst the title-track features a thudding drumbeat, peculiar pan-flute and synthesised backing vocals. Such is their placement at the beginning of the album, they set a benchmark that is never met afterwards.
It’s testament to Beck’s diversity that this change-up is to be expected, but given the quality of 2014’s Grammy Award Winning Morning Phase, one can’t help but wonder if adhering to a more traditional sonic progression would have been more beneficial. His career has been built on his idiosyncrasies and eclecticism, but this feels like an outlier in a fairly consistent discography – it makes Colors all the more surprising, given that it’s a piece of work sorely lacking it.