Earlier this week I decided to listen to every Beck album through in order, inspired largely by reading this article: Beck’s greatest songs, and partly by the discovery that there are half a dozen of his albums that I’ve never heard before. A chronological listen-through seemed like a good way to refamiliarise myself with the albums I already knew, have a listen to the new ones, and also get a sense of the overall context and evolution.
The first couple of albums (which I’d never heard before) were a fairly impenetrable mess of noise, much as I’d been expecting. At that time he was young and full of punkish bravado, wanting to turn the music world on its head with his own original sound, and throwing novel and challenging concepts out to see if he could catch some attention. After that, I entered the realm of things that I already owned on CD – everything from Mellow Gold (1994) to Sea Change (2002), all of which are brilliant albums in their own ways. After this must have been about the time that I became aware that Beck was a scientologist, and I’m not really the kind of person who finds it easy to separate the art from the artist, and so I drifted away from his music for a while.
That said, I must have drifted back at some point, as Guero (2005) and The Information (2006) are both albums that I had heard before on a few occasions. But my drifting was apparently only temporary, as all four of his albums since then were completely new to me.
Now, I’m generally reluctant to form an opinion on an album based on the first listen, because with a few exceptions, I find that familiarity has a huge impact on my relationship with a piece of music. But I could see why Morning Phase (2014) was so positively received, and I also really digged the disco pop of Colors (2017) which reminded me a lot of Two Door Cinema Club, who have a sound that fills me with great joy. That said, the whole project came to a bit of a disappointing conclusion with Hyperspace (2019). While I hate to be the person who uses the phrase “selling out”, this album did feel like the absolute antithesis of his early material. No innovation or originality here, just tedious recycling of the mainstream music of its time. I found it hard to believe that he could listen to it and think “yep, perfect. Ship it.” I think I might try to pretend I never heard it.