Beck is not one for repeating himself. Each record of his 12-album, 25-year career brings something a little bit different to the table – while remaining distinctly Beck. 1996’s ‘Odelay’ was the beer-chugging party starter, 2002’s ‘Sea Change’ saw him get dead serious and orchestral, and on 2008’s ‘Modern Guilt’, the multi-instrumentalist dabbled with filthy garage-rock. But on his new poptastic album ‘Colors’, it’s abundantly clear that we’ve really never seen Beck like this before.
It is, without a shadow of a doubt, Beck’s most mainstream-palatable record thus far. Whereas his previous pop guises had a little sprinkle of outsider magic – like 1999’s freak-funk odyssey ‘Midnite Vultures’ and 2006’s glitch-hop tinged ‘The Information’ – ‘Colors’ is unashamedly honest about its ambitions as a massive chart-topping pop record. But we should have seen this coming. Speaking to NME in 2016, the Californian made it known we’d be seeing a new, untapped side. “Recovering from my spine injury makes it a lot easier,” he said about the new album’s process. “It’s made a huge difference, so this record has felt like a lot of freedom.”
From the off, that liberating atmosphere is intoxicating. Take the self-titled opener, which is built around a Men At Work-esque panpipe riff, and ‘I’m So Free’, a vibrant, riff-heavy monster where he openly celebrates his new mindset. Much of the chart-ready feel lies with the album’s shimmering production, led by hitmaker Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia). 2016’s low-key dancefloor-ready curveball ‘Wow’ is jampacked with kooky tidbits and 2015 single ‘Dreams’ gets a fancy, shiny makeover. That mainstream ambition has its drawbacks in the lyrical department, mind. ‘Up All Night’, for example, is tainted by its irritatingly vague chorus: “Just wanna stay up all night with you / There’s nothing that I wouldn’t rather do”.
As a collection of songs, however, ‘Colors’ is by far Beck’s most upbeat and enjoyable record from front to back since the ’90s. Repeated listens will no doubt be rewarded. Where the 47-year-old goes from here is a mystery once again – but ‘Colors’ proves that the element of surprise works to his advantage.