When the world last heard from Beck, the self-made hipster was making an emphatic falsetto plea for more parties with robots who dig lesbians who tease playas who love all the pretty ladies and their fine sexy-bitch sisters. Gallactically hailed as the “party record of the year,” 1999’s Midnite Vultures took bombast to new heights as Beck revealed what an arcade game sense of production (lasers, please) and a gold tooth for excess can do to liberate the pop libido.

Three years, one breakup and a national disaster later, Beck returns with Sea Change, a quiet, reflective album that reunites him with his Mutations producer, Nigel Godrich. Once again, the duo stacks pristine arrangements over an acoustic-guitar center and Beck’s anti-folk warble, and once again, they do so stunningly.

Still, a Mutations clone this isn’t. With Sea Change, Beck ditches his trademark psychedelic wordplay and talks straight about, more often than not, relationship woes. It’s only lies that I’m living/It’s only tears that I’m crying/It’s only you that I’m losing/Guess I’m doing fine, he sings on a typically morose track.

But for all his despondence, Beck is savvy enough to know that without good songs, a descent into sad lessons about love will be just that — a descent. So even though the mood is decidedly downbeat, Beck’s studio workmanship shines brightly, particularly on back-to-back tracks “Lonesome Tears” and “Lost Cause.” On the first, a heartbroken narrative gives way to a breathtaking string climax. On the second, the album’s unlikely highlight, a glistening acoustic guitar frames Beck at his most defeated, ranting about a relationship gone bad and a town gone bland. If Midnite Vultures is the party album, Sea Change is its consequence: the partied-too-hard-and-now-regret-every-moment-of-the-last-six-months record.

Categories: Music