Beck’s chameleonic tendency to shift musical styles and textures from one album to the next can be traced to the producers with whom he works. The shuffling, sample-laden Odelay and Guero resulted from his collaboration with the Dust Brothers; the often abstruse singer was able to conjure melancholic sincerity on Sea Change with the help of Nigel Godrich; and Danger Mouse’s crisp, tight production kept the eclectic Modern Guilt focused and cohesive. For his 13th album, Colors, Beck taps pop producer Greg Kurstin, his keyboardist from the Sea Change Tour. The pair play nearly every instrument on the album, but rather than feel organic, the result is fussed-over, with generic lyricism causing even the boundless joy and wonder on display in songs like “I’m So Free” and “Wow” to feel fabricated.
Despite the incessant theme of freedom on Colors, Beck’s idiosyncrasies seem constrained by a desire for maximum accessibility. On “Wow,” his awe of the present moment is hampered by inane YOLO clichés, while the non-sequitur Beck-isms—“Standing on the lawn doing jiu-jitsu/Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini Shih Tzu”—feel like labored self-parody. Similarly, “Dreams” suffers from vapid lyrics that confusingly call upon the listener to both “wake up from your reverie” and to “close your eyes” to escape into a dream world.
This jumbled mix of trite sentiment with heavy-handed lyrical flourishes is most apparent on “Seventh Heaven,” a track that finds Beck invoking “apple flower doggerels” and “filigrees of energy” before delving into a melodramatic chorus about leaving the world behind and losing himself in the one he loves. Whether it’s his proclamations that he has “all the love you need” on “Colors” or insisting that “there’s nothing I wouldn’t rather do/Just wanna stay up all night with you” on “Up All Night,” the 47-year-old singer-songwriter brings a juvenile approach to romantic love that’s a regression from the moving sincerity he’s proven so adept at conveying on his more thoughtful albums.
At times, it seems as though Beck is grasping at something, anything, to add conflict and tension to this rather effusive album. But all he comes up with are the most well-worn of sentimental platitudes, as in the tropical-inflected “No Distraction,” where he vaguely refers to “what we went through” and “everything that I know went wrong.” In giving no concrete shape to genuine obstacles that he feels he’s had to overcome, Beck fails to give his euphoric, outsized sense of liberation much emotional heft.