Following the critical and commercial success of 2014’s Morning Phase, Beck returns with an alternative offering of sorts – a pop fusion record that’s been developed over the previous four years, and one designed very much as a crowd pleaser for fans, with a noticeably more upbeat and jaunty nature throughout. Colors comes off as half an attempt to revisit earlier successes such as 1999’s Midnite Vultures or 2005’s Guero, with their oddball samples and erratic yet undeniably pop-based styles, but it doesn’t ever manage to truly emulate those, as the chameleonic songwriter overdoes it slightly, slipping and sliding his way around several genres and moods throughout an album that never really decides what it wants to be.
For starters, even as the album was dropped, the singer’s own admissions about his recording process for his thirteenth record are far from reassuring, as he confided in NME earlier this year: ‘’I was touring constantly while making it, so I was attempting to bring some of that energy back to the studio, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.’’ The chaotic and stop-start nature of this approach is an instant red flag that translates to the album in an unfortunate manner, as the tracklist’s best moments are inevitably contrasted with its more distracting whims and unremarkable filler throughout its relatively brief 39 minutes running time.
‘Colors’ kicks things off with a vibrant, infectious opener that makes great use of a unique pan flute-led hook in an immediate highlight, before delivering a couple of similarly upbeat, if somewhat less inspiring, radio friendly pop-rock tunes in the form of ‘Seventh Heaven’ and ‘I’m So Free, ‘two inoffensively bland singalong tracks that serve their purpose of taking up space in the early goings while never quite necessitating replays in the long run. Similarly, the generic yet catchy ‘No Distraction’ is a passable Police knock off that doesn’t outstay its welcome, capping off a harmless yet truly unremarkable first 20 minutes.
The album’s singles fare better for the most part, as Beatles inspired piano riff ‘Dear Life’ shoots for more depth than previous tracks while ‘Wow’ certainly marks the most interesting element in the mix, as Beck executes an electronic hip-hop beat that apparently came to fruition after repeated listens to Chance The Rapper inspired the 47 year old. These kinds of experiments are where Beck has always thrived, and it’s a shame that the album couldn’t have been built around more of this fresh, exciting sound rather than tracks like worst offender ‘Dreams’, a two-and-a-half-year-old utterly generic single which inexplicably finds itself as the centrepiece of the album, demonstrating a dreadful laziness and lack of ambition that you would never have thought its creator capable of. Furthermore, the use of these songs on video games and commercials before they even saw the light of day for record release is a far cry from the artistic integrity of Beck’s early days, as it seems that he’s sacrificing a little of his indie soul to remain appealing to the masses and relevant in the public eye.
The second half of Colors finishes strongly with the piano led blast of funk ‘Square One’ and ‘Up All Night’, a warm beam of hip pop that’s bursting with emotion and joy, but it’s final track ‘Fix Me’ which rounds the album out so well, as Beck saves his best for last with a golden, layered closer that uncoincidentally recalls the songwriter’s magnum opus, masterful break-up album Sea Change from 2002.
It’s almost the only time that true emotions are allowed to be shown on a record that really could have benefited from a better balance and exploration of the more mature themes and softer textures which resulted in such glowing reception to previous projects such as Morning Phase, Mutations and the aforementioned Sea Change.
Ultimately, while overly formulaic and far too safe for a Beck album at times, Colors is short, sweet and reliably catchy. Inconsistent yet inoffensive, it’s an album that won’t stick in the mind very long, and that’s probably the most unfortunate thing you could ever hope to say about a Beck album in the first place.