“Alternative” and “indie” are the terms bandied about when attempting to classify Beck's music. The release of Colors, his thirteenth studio album, makes it abundantly clear that these qualifiers disguise an obvious truth: Beck is a pop artist. It's not surprising that Beck avoided the genre label of pop though. Even now, it's still a dirty word to music tastemakers and picky fans. It's also easy to see, on a surface level, that the word “pop” could be limiting, whereas alternative and indie come off as appropriately broader categories. But the truth is right there in Beck's impressive canon of work, one which houses his feverishly eclectic interests in areas ranging from hip-hop, to rock, to funk and folk.
In fact, it was Beck's constant noodling with the folk genre that led to 2014's Morning Phase, the long player that preceded Colors. Morning Phase was an expansive exercise in the contemporary folk genre, an elegantly human project that kept Beck's critical favor in good standing. The album also netted Beck three Grammy wins in 2015 for “Album of the Year,” “Best Rock Album” and “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.”
A year later, he followed Morning Phase with a single entitled “Dreams.” The track marked Beck's first-time partnership with musician/producer Greg Kurstin, whose résumé lists the likes of Kylie Minogue, Foo Fighters, Adele, Tegan and Sara, Emma Bunton, Lily Allen, P!nk, and more. Kurstin and Beck hit it off right away.
The California rock burst of “Dreams” shifted away from the stripped-down sound of Morning Phase, signposting something bigger and brighter on the horizon, which, of course, ended up as Colors. Beck and Kurstin took their time piecing together the album, their relaxed meeting of minds building and improving upon the uptempo fervor of “Dreams.” To be clear, at this junction in Beck's career, his new album is sort of a textbook example of his established skillset. His casually confident vocalizing remains roguishly handsome. Lyrically, his words still portray an ever-active imagination at work.
What makes Colors a redefining moment for Beck is its abandonment of care in relation to critical reception and its embrace of experimental pop methodology at its most florid and fun. The anthemic globalist disco groove of the title track boogies close to the smirking dance-punk of “I'm So Free” and “No Distraction.” “The California vibe” brings its sun dappled perspective to “Dreams” as well as “Seventh Heaven” and “Up All Night” via each track's various punctuated guitar riffs and licks. The post-modern Vaudevillian pop of “Dear Life” winks toward Elton John's own classic sonic costuming, its texture seemingly a good fit on Beck too. Colors concludes with the gorgeous “Fix Me,” a song that would not have been out of place on Morning Phase due to its fleshy folk-pop position.
Totaling 11 tracks—12 if one gets the deluxe edition which includes another variation on “Dreams”—it's an athletic set of songs that carries its joy in its music and mood effortlessly. And that is what makes Colors such a fantastic record. It brings across Beck's acceptance of his best pop self and the resulting music just feels so damn good.
Notable Tracks: “Colors” | “Fix Me” | “I’m So Free” | “Seventh Heaven”