Morning Phase marks the return of Beck Hansen a total of six years after Modern Guilt, an album that saw the always adventurous showman play it short and safe in a solid but unremarkable effort. For this, his 12th studio album, Beck is attempting to revisit the acoustic glory of his 2002 wallowing break up masterpiece Sea Change, declaring Phase a 'companion' to an album that unearthed deeper layers to the American, showcasing a maturity that many would presume seemed beyond the years of a man who brought us his signature slacker hit 'Loser' in the early nineties. But that would be an unfair assessment; consider Mutations, an earlier release in Beck's catalogue, and you have another example of reserved beauty that was perhaps slightly overlooked at the time, so considering Hansen's qualified success in this department, we certainly have reason to expect good results on Morning Phase.
'Morning' welcomes the listener in with a track that bares more than just a passing resemblance to its Sea Change counterpart 'The Golden Age', with a sighed vocal and acoustic backing. While it's a comfortable introduction it's also impossible for the song to standalone due to its inescapable similarity to past work, and it inspires concern that Beck is going to tread this closely to his old material throughout Morning Phase. This proves to be an unfounded suspicion though as 'Heart Is A Drum' casually uplifts its audience with a simple piano track mixed with easy listening guitar that sounds like a potential single before we get to vintage Beck on 'Say Goodbye', pre-released track 'Blue Moon', 'Don't Let It Go' and 'Unforgiven' in particular, a gorgeous slow burner featuring drowning synth chords.
This excellent midsection showcases a darker side to the album that while recalling its 2002 sibling never attempts to recreate it, as Beck executes a series of atmospheric harmonies and sounds in his absolute element. Alongside these acoustic pieces are delicate string accompaniments ('Cycle', 'Phase') that weave in and around the track list tying the album together nicely, but when this soundscape is utilized into a full track it creates one of the standout moments of the record on 'Wave', as Beck's voice gets lost within the warm synth textures in a simple, emotional, delicate highlight. From here things are brought to a slow close with 'Country Down', a feel good penultimate track that features a wonderful harmonica solo before 'Waking Light' ends Morning Phase with an anti-climatic fade out comedown, the final track acting as the musical equivalent of an exhale of breath in the most positive way possible.
Upon its conclusion, there's no doubt that Morning Phase is another tremendous success for the prolific songwriter. A successfully crafted homage to (one of) Beck's magnum opus', this is another trophy to add to an already glittering collection. Considering the American's skill when he focuses on creating quality folk style indie music, this direction could certainly be a wonderful way for Beck to settle into the latter stages of his career. It's never easy to guess where he's going to go next, but this path of bluesy contemplation is one that serves Beck extremely well, as evidenced in the stellar Morning Phase.
Review by Andrew Lambert | FOUR STARS