Over the course of Beck’s 25-year career, he’s tapped into a multitude of styles, including lo-fi avant-garde, country, alt-rock, hip-hop, funk, orchestral, and singer/songwriter, among many others. It’s only fitting, then, that his latest collection, Colors, reveals yet another persona. True to its name, it’s a jovial psychedelic mixture of ‘60s rock, ‘80s synth pop and modern electronic that, like many of its predecessors, finds Beck channeling the current musical zeitgeist while also maintaining his trademark sensibilities and personality. Although Color’s sustained templates make it a tad repetitious overall, the album is still a very pleasing, cohesive and imaginative sequence.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Beck said that the goal behind Colors was “ to make something that was uplifting, had a lot of energy, and made you want to sing along”; in addition, the LP marks the first time producer and musician Greg Kurstin also served as a co-songwriter: “I write a lot on my own, so having someone else there inspired me to come out of my comfort zone. I was trying not to be afraid of simplicity on this album,” Beck added. In those respects, the album is quite successful, as its sparkling production, bouncy rhythms and alluring melodies make it irresistibly celebratory and, well, colorful.
This festive penchant is perhaps best represented on the eponymous opener, whose initially muddled blend of dazzling effects and party percussion quickly rises to a clearer surface. Interestingly, there are also subtle bursts of woodwinds and strings beneath Beck’s marching verses—adding even more endearing variety to the mix—while his slow, surreal transitions provide fine segues into the modulated vocal counterpoints of the chorus. It’s a blissfully vibrant and engaging way to begin, and it sets the stage well for the overarching vibe of the disc.
Of course, several other tracks maintain a comparably glorious attitude and digital sheen, including “I’m So Free,” a very catchy track with arena rock guitar chords and even a bit of Beck’s old school hip-hop deliveries. It seems like the perfect fit for a life-affirming commercial, as does centerpiece “No Distraction,” which, oddly enough, features an urgent, Beatles-esque chorus in the midst of an arrangement that evokes Portugal. the Man’s “Atomic Man” (from 2012’s Evil Friends). In fact, the latter group’s mixture of contemporary hip-hop, electronic, and pop/rock also comes through on “Dreams (Colors Mix)” and “Up All Night,” two highly multifaceted compositions that are equally suited for academic close listening and revelry background coating.
While Colors is filled with moments of elation, it also has a few sections that exude Beck’s characteristic introspection and melancholy. For instance, “Seventh Heaven” oozes shimmering reflections and breezy triumphs (as if its speaker has just conquered hardships and can breathe easily again). Elsewhere, the punchy piano chords, grungy guitar lines, subtle strings and empowered melodies of “Dear Life” immediately and consistently recall the dense and slightly antagonistic sing-along nature of ‘70s Elton John and modern Paul McCartney. Naturally, “Fix Me” concludes the sequence with delicate dreaminess and longing as Beck sings softly over faint orchestration and folk-rock instrumentation. In terms of sheer songwriting, it’s the highlight of the whole record.
Beck has always been a master of infusing his signature essence into whatever styles—retro and/or modern—he wants to play with at any given moment, and that remains true on Colors. While its glittery timbres and programmed beats can be a bit overbearing and repetitive at times, they never truly detract from how enjoyable and creative the record is. Beyond that, Beck is one of only a handful of popular artists over the last few decades who legitimately reinvents himself with almost every new studio work—so he deserves praise for that alone. As both a quintessential entry into his catalog and a striking entry into mainstream popular culture, Colors once again cements Beck as a clever, ever-dynamic and enduring artist.