Friday, April 4, 2008
No. 440: Sea Change
Album: Sea Change
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The face of one of the first Apple's iPod ad campaigns, “Sea Change” is one of Beck's records in which he's a folk troubadour, instead of a pop culture machine gun/b-boy. The song has a reserved brilliance, full of confident sadness and scored to lush strings and acoustic guitars.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Saying this album is good is like saying the sky is blue. It's brilliant and it should be higher.
Best song: “Lost Cause” isn't just the best Beck song. It's one of the best songs ever written. By anyone.
Worst song: Eh. I like every song on this record.
Is it awesome?: Yes.
Beck is known for records like “Odelay.” People love his ability to be a human VH1 show – regurgitating old culture while simultaneously mocking it and revering it. Beck is the man who invented “I'm so ironic, I've become sincere” culture that permeates my generation.
Despite this, his best work is decidedly romantic, hopelessly pretty and tender. One of my five favorite songs ever, “Lost Cause” isn't just pretty, it's perfect. “Baby, I'm a lost,” Beck sings. “Baby, I'm a lost cause.”
Full of multiple tracked acoustic guitars playing a soft melody, the song's easy rhythm fits the melancholy of the song's theme. The walking bass line sets a backbone like a jazz record. The synths and atmospheric keyboards fall away for the verses as Beck's soft Drake-ish vocals bring out the perfect lyrics.
Like the antihero in a 1950s movie, Beck is reassuring while exuding the exhaust of a man done with it all. “I'm tired of fighting,” he sings. “Tired of fighting for a lost cause.”
The song permeates you. Soundtracker extraordinaire Zach Braff understandably used the song for a “Scrubs” episode of heartbreak and futility. It's confident in its sadness; there's no feeling sorry for this particular lost cause. He'll land on his feet, cause more pain and continue.
The whole album follows the lead of “Lost Cause.” “Paper Tiger” is slightly funky as the strings swirl around a Bootsy Collins-style bassline. “Lonesome Tears” is melancholy and soft with the production of a disco track on quaaludes. “End of the Day” reminds one of a Neil Young song without the Neil Young riff (yes, that's a good thing). “Already Dead” has Beck channeling Nick Drake's guitar playing and John Lennon's vocal style. “Guess I'm Doing Fine” has the attitude of “Lost Cause” with a similarly impressive arrangement.
Beck wears many hats -- DJ, spaceman, lyrical comedian, Scientologist, etc. -- but his "singer/songwriter" hat fits him best. "Lost Cause" is his best album and an absolute classic.