Is life about loss or love? Isolating failures or second chances? Exile or reunion? Conflict or reconciliation? For acoustic troubadour Beck Hansen—better known as just Beck—the answer to all these questions on his Grammy-winning Album of the Year is … yes.
Over the course of 13 dreamily hypnotic songs—often sounding like a time-warped blend of Pink Floyd, CSNY and Simon & Garfunkel—Morning Phase delivers poetic, spare and philosophical meditations on the relationship between perseverance and pain. And it’s a tension he seems more than content just to acknowledge rather than resolve.
There’s little that’s obviously objectionable on Morning Phase. But sometimes Beck’s sentiments drift listlessly toward despair without, maybe, quite enough counterbalancing influence. “Heart Is a Drum,” for instance, concludes, “Beat, beat, beat, beat, it’s beating me down/Day after day, it’s turning around/’Til all my days are drowning out.” “Say Goodbye” moodily plumbs the depths of the emotional vacuum left when a romantic relationship ends by telling us, “Bones crack, curtains drawn/on my back and she is gone/Somewhere else, I do not know.”
Determination. Despair. At any given moment, you’re not always sure which one is in the ascendant on the ephemeral Morning Phase. To show you what I mean, I’ll point to “Turn Away,” where Beck instructs, “Hold, hold the light/That fixes you in time/Keeps you under/Takes you over/The wall of love that divides, between waking and slumber/Turn away.”
Lines like those defy easy categorization while intelligently hinting at the vexing perplexities and swirling ambiguities of life and love. Beck acknowledges failure, brokenness and isolation on nearly every track. And yet, quite often he paradoxically juxtaposes that acknowledgment against a quiet hope. Though Beck (who reportedly subscribes to Scientology) never directly refers to God, more than once his plaintive pleas have a prayer-like feel to them.
What we’re left with, then, is not so much meaning as mood. A mood that is a realistically ambivalent with Beck loosely holding the disappointments of life in one hand and the conviction that good things still await at the morning dawn in the other.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.