Nearly every song finds Beck writing shallow and meaningless lyrics.
“Tell me, do you feel alive?” Not really, Beck, and it’s difficult to imagine you do either. Let’s not beat around the bush here: Colors, Beck’s 13th album, is very bad. Not bad in an offensive way (see: Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu) or one that resonates through the ages (see: Philosophy of the World by the Shaggs). No, Colors is just plain boring. Following the understated and underrated Morning Phase, one can understand why Beck might want to retreat to a carefree and less-vulnerable place. But rather than returning to his spastic roots with the kind of genre-bending work he once espoused, he chose to team up with Greg Kurstin, perhaps best known as a creative force behind Adele’s “Hello.”
If this year’s Mark Ronson-produced Queens of the Stone Age album, Villains, proved anything, it’s that working with a pop-leaning producer is not something we should be wary of; after all, Kurstin produced the Shins’ Port of Morrow, and while that album wasn’t revelatory, it was still a charming piece of work. He also helmed Tegan and Sara’s close-to-indispensable Heartthrob. With the known sonic range of Beck, the sheen of pop production shouldn’t dampen his creative spirits—at least, not in theory. Upon first listen, however, it becomes immediately clear that each song sounds roughly the same. You may find your head bobbing to the funky synth sounds of songs like “Dreams,” but this results more from a natural reflex to bright, colorful beats rather than any sort of appreciation for well-constructed grooves—just because you can move to it doesn’t mean it’s any good.
What’s worse is that his partnership with Kurstin seems to have stripped Beck of most of the flair that virtually made him into a household name. Lyrically, each song is remarkably puerile: how did he get from “So cut me down to size so I can fit inside/ Lies that will divide us both in time” on Morning Phase’s “Blue Moon” to “There’s nothing that I wouldn’t rather do/ Just wanna stay up all night with you” on Colors’ “Up All Night” in just three years?
Nearly every song finds Beck writing shallow and meaningless lyrics, while even his stream-of-consciousness songs feel like a caricature: “I want to see you/ With the pharaoh’s curse/ The apple flower doggerel/ The batteries burst” (“Seventh Heaven”). On “I Feel Free,” he starts, “I’m on a tangent/ Textbook ephemeral/ Facts are confusing me/ I’m so free now,” but he doesn’t even bother to deliver it with the conviction of the man who wrote the Becktionary on freak-pop tone poetry. Sometimes, even the most fascinating weirdos get to a point of boredom.
Not every song here is terrible. “Wow,” one of the album’s earliest singles, is the grooviest song Beck has produced in quite a few years—to the point where it doesn’t sound like it belongs on this album at all. But with that single’s release roughly a year-and-a-half ago now, even the album’s freshest idea is stale by the time you hear it in context of the album’s flat, rarely-changing atmosphere. There may be a few tracks here worth listening to in single doses, but taken as a whole, Colors feels like the sonic equivalent of a Cadbury Creme Egg: too sugary and made from artificial ingredients older than you’d like to admit.