I have cracked the code! JUMANJI!
My mind has been replaying a snippet of a song for a couple of weeks now and I could not place it. It has been like a broken record in my head and it has been driving me mad. Over and over, I would hear a melancholy voice sing, "Something better than this…"
I tried searching it in Google and Yahoo, but with so little to go on I came up with 10,000,000 results. I combed through a few of those hits and I found it: "Side of the Road" by Beck from Sea Change.
I feel a sense of release, of relief. I am going to listen to this song for an hour or two now.
Now that I have brought it up, I know at least one of my Mondo Brethren is a Beck devotee. Sea Change is probably my second favorite Beck album. They tend to shuffle back and forth with me. On any given day, my order would look something like this:
- Sea Change
- Mellow Gold
Guero and Sea Change rarely move from their slots. Guero is Beck at the absolute top of his game. He combines the emotional depth of Sea Change with the sonic backdrop of Odelay. The songs are catchy, quirky, and brilliant.
Sea Change is the album that changed my view of Beck. Before it, I had a couple of his CDs and liked them well enough but was not a huge fan. Sea Change is the album where he became an artist. It is tremendous. The lyrics, the vocals, and the arrangements are all first rate. This album breaks my blackened little heart when I listen to it. Rarely has the wasteland of a failed relationship sounded this compelling over the course of an entire album.
The lyrics and the vocals surprised me most. Having listened to Odelay, I was aware of his abilities to create fascinating soundscapes. His lyrics usually came across as gibberish presented in a hiphop slacker style. Sea Change changed that. His vocals have probably never been this expressive and his words this poetic. Sea Change is a rich album worthy of repeated listens. Among my favorite moments on the disc are the final moments of "Paper Tiger" (actually, I love the entire song, but these lines minister to me):
There's one road to the morning
There's one road to the truth
There's one road back to civilization
But there's no road back to you.
You have to hear the mournful sound of his voice and the alluring string/guitar bed underneath it to experience the full potency, but even in print those lines communicate the emotions powerfully.
That passage, and there are several more like it, is a far cry from "I gotta couple of couches/sleep on the love seat." Don't get me wrong. I like "Loser" and I like the looser side of Beck's musical persona. He became a major musical figure with Mellow Gold and Odelay. If he never made Sea Change, he would still be a genius because of how great that material is. He could have continued making records in that vein and disappointed no one, but Sea Change revealed a depth I did not know he had. He can make you get up and dance with two turntables and a microphone, but he can also move you with an acoustic guitar and sumptuous strings.
Billions of breakup songs have been written, and most of them are bad. Pain can make for great art but it can also give you "How You Remind Me" by Nickelback. How many folders do you think those atrocious lyrics were scrawled on in junior high schools across the country? That was my first thought the first time I heard that unspeakably bad song. Chad "Grizzly Adams" Kroeger bared his sole and it was stupid.
Beck manages to write not only a great breakup song, but a great breakup album. I know what you're thinking. Could it possibly be as good as Nick Lachey's "What's Left of Me"? If you asked that question and you meant it, stop reading this review now. Better yet, throw away your MP3 player, your CDs, and tear out your car stereo. Stop listening to music. Stop buying music. Never reproduce.
Right-thinking people of the cosmos would already own Sea Change and know that it compares favorably with arguably the best breakup album of all time, Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Unfortunately, Sea Change has sold under one million copies, so there are not enough right-thinking people in the cosmos. What is wrong with you people? Every single one of you has had your ass dumped at some point. You need music to nourish your wounded soul! Without it, you write bad poetry and that bad poetry sometimes becomes bad music like Nick Lachey and Nickelback. That's right. I contend if someone would have sent Nick a copy of Sea Change when Jessica Simpson tossed his ass to the curb (or vice versa, because who really gives a fuck?), we might have been spared one more bad album polluting the "L" section of your favorite music store.
Something better than this? Not likely.