Beck recently released a quiet new single and it may be the most achingly beautiful song he’s ever done, “Thinking About You,” and no, it’s not another Neil Young cover. The track is very low-key and frankly was released in an equally low-key manner. I didn’t see much fanfare. I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for Instagram which I originally joined for the exact purpose of finding out about new music… and to share pictures of my wife’s cat. Aren’t cat pics what Instagram’s true purpose is? I’m beginning to wonder, with the low key approach Beck is taking these days – he hasn’t released an album since 2019’s Hyperspace – if maybe he considers himself on the “back 9” of his career, headed for the clubhouse. (I don’t golf so I hope that reference makes sense). I don’t even know if there’s a new album coming? I actually wrote about Beck’s cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man” and it didn’t get much attention. I thought it was a great, if overly faithful cover – all of Neil’s anti commercial use aside – but again it didn’t generate much buzz. It didn’t help that the commercial it was used for was about Tom Brady… gads. I’m beginning to wonder if 90s artists like Beck and even Dave Matthews who recently released a single “Madman’s Eyes” are fading into the woodwork? Maybe they’re considered merely live acts now to be seen in the summer sheds? I hope not. They’re great artists with great careers who are still releasing great stuff.
I got in pretty early on Beck. I’d like to tell you I was cool enough to jump in during the Mellow Gold period. I was a fan of “Loser” but I figured like the Beastie Boys after their first album, that Beck would be a 1-hit, novelty song wonder. Like the Beastie Boys who took an enormous leap forward on their second album, Paul’s Boutique, when Beck released Odelay in 1996 it was utterly unexpected. It’s truly a masterpiece. He was like a young, sampling, hip Dylan. The word play was mind blowing. It turned out, unbeknownst to me at the time, Beck had two sides much like the aforementioned Neil Young. He had his new, modern, electric stuff but he was also a closet folky. He’s put out a number of wonderful acoustic based albums. I’m to the point where I almost like those acoustic albums better. I jumped on his 1998 release Mutations. His “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” was a favorite. However that CD may have taken off when I broke up with the woman I was seeing at the time… Fitting that I would be writing about a break up on Valentine’s Day… I was indeed the king of breakups… “Darlene, I hate that sweater, it’s over…” but I’m off topic here.
I followed the louder side of Beck through the the years since the 90s. I liked Midnight Vultures, I thought it was a hysterically funny album. “Debra” was a favorite. “I came at her, with a fresh pack of gum…” Guero (2005) was wonderful as was The Information (2006) and Modern Guilt (2008). Beck book-ended those three great records with what I consider to be his two best records, this side of Odelay. In 2002, after splitting with his then wife, he released the heartbreaking Sea Change. When I heard the first few strums of the acoustic guitar, the pedal steel and the words, “Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin…” on the opening track, “The Golden Age,” I was in. You’d have to dial up Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” to find that kind of heartbreak. Yes, I am still a sucker for heartbreak music. Had I had not been living with the Rock Chick, engaged by that point, I’d have locked myself in my apartment with Sea Change on repeat, a fifth of Woodford Reserve and a pack of Marlboro Lights – and I never even smoked.
After then releasing the aforementioned three LPs from 2005 to 2008, Beck returned to the color palette he used for Sea Change for the sequel, Morning Phase. While acoustic and low key like Sea Change, it didn’t have the inherent heartbreak. The music on Morning Phase reaches out like a warm hug after a long, cold hike. It’s some of the most comforting music I own. No coincidence that the Rock Chick, who didn’t like Sea Change, loves Morning Phase. She played that as much as she’s been playing The Art of Survival since we saw Bush last week, and that’s a lot.
Since Morning Phase, Beck has released a couple of his more upbeat records. While Colors had a few really great moments, I frankly thought it was a bit disjointed. I was disappointed with the album, although the ex who may have taken off with Mutations told me via email I was crazy and it was “a great album.” I take all feedback here at B&V, good and bad. I was greatly anticipating Beck’s last album Hyperspace, but alas I was once again disappointed. While I really liked the lead single, “Saw Lightning,” I didn’t even review the album. I try not to put negative stuff out there, there’s enough negativity in the world. As my sainted mother told me long ago, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”
Since then we haven’t heard much from Beck. He’s likely producing other bands. He’s probably very busy but I’m not hearing much of that. He popped up on a Cage the Elephant song I liked, “Night Running.” Then last year we heard his take on “Old Man.” I wondered if this heralded his return to his acoustic sound that I love so much. Enter, “Thinking About You.” I love this song – but then I’m on record as a lover of sad songs. The first part sets the scene:
“I pull the curtains
And lay in bed
I’ve got 15 movies of you
Playing in my head
Chasing the moonlight
Watching the ocean turn blue
Just thinking about you
Thinking about you…”
God, I’ve been there. Back in the 90s, my famous relationship flame out decade, was spent like this. The track is all Beck’s haunting voice, plucked acoustic guitar, strings and a wonderful harmonica. This song is earnest and without a single saccharine moment to complain about. This is aching heartache that you can feel with your hands. I’ve always loved music with strong lyrics that set a mood and a scene and Beck has killed it on this track. The finality in the line, “…and she’s gone, she’s gone” is all eclipsing. While she’s far less sentimental than I, when I played this song for the Rock Chick, she blinked a few times and said, “That’s devastatingly beautiful.” Here is the link to the track:
I hope this means Beck is finally putting out another album. I know he’s got some great music left in him despite my disappointment with his last two louder records. Regardless of whether there’s an album in the near future or not, this song will always rank amongst Beck’s finest tracks here at B&V.
Happy Valentine’s Day for all of you out there. I hope, if you so desire, you’ve got someone to hang out with. If not, remember like Miley Cyrus says, “I can buy myself flowers…” And if you’re like me in the 90s and you hate Valentines Day, you can always check out our Anti-Valentine’s Day playlist… It’s a tad more aggressive… If you’re lonely call a friend, reach out. Don’t let love bring you down, even if you are “thinking about” someone who’s not thinking about you. You’re likely better off… and good things are right around the corner. My love life was like George Washington’s military career. I lost every battle except the last one. If I can meet the Rock Chick, you’ll be fine. Take care of each other out there.
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