There’s at least half a great album in Colors, a record Beck has been talking about since before he released his Album of the Year Grammy winner, Morning Phase, in 2014. First single Dreams, for example, came out all the way back in 2015, and remains one of the best tracks (it gets an updated mix here).
On one hand, Beck’s doing whats he’s done for most of his career, following up a folky, acoustic-based record with an album full of fun, funky jams. On the other, it’s nearly 2018 and this was supposed to come out in 2014.
So what took so long? While the success of Morning Phase, Beck’s throwback to excellent 2002 record Sea Change, must have certainly played a role, it’s also evident from the painstakingly pristine pop production care of Greg Kurstin that Colors has been laboured over intensely. While it’s a throwback itself to his beats-inspired records like Odelay and Midnite Vultures, the overall feeling shares more in common with his lovely sounding but otherwise underwhelming Danger Mouse collaboration Modern Guilt.
Kurstin once played in Beck’s backing band, but these days writes and produces for the likes of Adele and Sia. So it makes sense that if Beck wanted to go pop he’d turn to Kurstin. On tracks such as Dreams, the party-starting title track Colors (why it hasn’t been released as a single is a mystery) and Up All Night, this works a treat. Beck’s quirks and oddball sense of rhythm match well with Kurstin’s glistening sounds and we approach something like pop perfection.
I’m So Free, with it’s amping hip hop vibes sounding strangely remniscent of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and the Police-inspired reggae rock of No Distraction, are more derivative but maintain the party atmosphere and serve as highlights themselves. Cole MGN-produced 2016 single Wow provides a nice change up in the second half, and makes more sense than it did as a standalone single.
What lets Colors down is inconsistency, and in truth that’s been a problem on Beck albums for a while now. Second song Seventh Heaven is hummable enough but fails to make an impression, and Dear Life‘s jaunty piano two tracks later isn’t much better. If you feel like pressing skip every second track, you’re not alone.
But the real disappointment is in saving the biggest duds, closing tracks Square One and Fix Me, till last, ending the record on an unmistakably flat note. Fix Me in particular is an inexplicably boring ballad that dawdles to the finishing line, completely at odds with what came before it.
There’s nothing wrong with Beck making a straight up pop record, in fact it’s one of the few things he’s never tried before. The problem here is he’s diluted his own flavour too much, to the point that you feel this is more a Greg Kurstin and Beck Hansen collaboration than a straight up Beck album.
It still sounds like him, just less so. And with nearly half the album made up of fillers, the best tracks just have too much heavy lifting to do. A shame, because when he’s good, he’s still very good.