Beck had bared his soul before, in a sense, on 1998’s Mutations, and like Sea Change, that album followed an impersonal, irony-saturated work with a more reflective, earnest one.
More importantly, Sea Change most differs from the disputatious Mutations (and other acoustic-based albums like the great One Foot In The Grave) in that it is not so much mellow as it is lush, and it’s not so much personal as it is, well, sad. Producer Nigel Godrich’s reputation as something of a King Midas for post-grunge acts is well earned. If this all sounds more the domain of a sad sack the likes of, say, Neil Halstead than that of a man whose former lyrical concerns revolved around Satanic tacos and dildos large enough to crush the sun, consider that Beck was 32, richer than God, and utterly heartbroken when he recorded Sea Change.
ReviewBeck leaves the Hollywood freaks behind and heads to the country on this excellent disc.
The divorce-album-as-discographical-inevitability is a phenomenon that historically occurs deep into an established artist’s career, and very few new artists are afforded that sort of shelf life anymore. Oscar Wilde almost certainly had Beck in his crystal ball when he uttered his famous quip about talent borrowing and genius stealing. An enduring, well-loved record is certainly the best thing anyone could have hoped to emerge from such circumstances.
But it wasn’t long ago that the notion of a mainstream artist gambling their reputation by over-sharing was as ubiquitous a rock and roll cliche as the double live album and the heroic destruction of a Doubletree suite.

Beck is one of pop music’s great chameleons, but his capriciousness works best from album to album, and not from song to song, when his eclectic leanings can often sound satiric and insincere.
The reverb on Beck’s voice alone –- rich and full-bodied -– sounds as if it has been worked-over for weeks. The tone throughout is reflective and resigned; the complete lack of bitterness or cynicism in the lyrics sets it apart from any other record like it. I dig this version of Beck: the leaf blower-wielding performance artist reborn as heartbroken bohemian superstar. The focus on singing and songwriting recalls Mutations, while the melancholy lyrics are backed by full arrangements for strings, piano and acoustic guitar. Still, for a supposedly mellow album of songs about heartbreak and loss, Sea Change can come off as oppressive, frequently dramatic when intimate and woozy would do. On Sea Change, the objects of Beck’s affection are mostly Serge Gainsbourg and AM radio navel-gazers of yore like Graham Nash, Gordon Lightfoot and Poco. At their best, they resonate with anyone who’s ever had a case of the answering machine blues. This impish insistence on the blending of every sound he has ever heard has rightfully earned Beck as many detractors as fans.

Occasionally, it sounds like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for people who collect vintage pinball machines. It concludes one of the album’s most devastating songs with one of its most revealing, beautiful moments. Beck’s Sea Change is one of the last of the records in this great tradition, and yesterday, it turned 10 years old. The fact that the album features the same band as the markedly different Midnite Vultures is also a testament to Beck’s immaculate vision, as well as his warranted trust in a group that effortlessly matches his own versatility. If the primary distinction of Sea Change is that it attempts to be timeless rather than merely timely, it only does so by dialing back the kitsch and referencing things that are actually good instead of ironically good. The lyrics of Sea Change are sung from a position of bummed vulnerability, but they are rarely trite, which is one of the more admirable high wire acts of the sensitive singer-songwriter. In the end, it’s the maturity with which Beck handles this split that may be the most unsettling thing about it.

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