“I remember reading somewhere that there were original 2,000 different kinds of bananas,” said Beck Hansen. “But they just picked one to mass-market and that’s the one you see everywhere. Musically, I think a similar thing happens, where we just opt for one two things, but there’s this infinite galaxy of sounds and ideas.”
Most people never thought Beck would have more than one song but he’s been going strong for decades now. The adventurous artist continues to explore the ins and outs of both rock and pop music. Despite being in his late 40s, he still looks boyish at times, perhaps because of his wide-eyed spirit as an entertainer.
As he continues to absorb pop culture, through country, folk, blues, hip-hop, classical, punk and everything in between, his sound continues to grow. All of this goes into Beck’s goal to “break up the formula.” This is especially true on the new album, Colors.
Beck Talks About His Ongoing Exploration
“In the ’90s, I felt like part of my role…was the way music can get homogenized and reduced to two or three flavors,” said Beck. “When I started making records, I thought, ‘What about harpsichords? What about sitars? Let’s throw some things around and break up the formula. Let’s open up the vocabulary.’”
In his latest album, Colors, this ongoing exploration shines through. This may sound different from 2008’s Modern Guilt and 2014’s Morning Phase, but his new album is different for other reasons as well. For starters, the new collection contains bigger-than-life songs about personal health issues.
The artist’s spinal injury left him bedridden for months, where he couldn’t perform but he could write and listen and think about music. This has happened to other icons in the past. Merle Haggard wrote songs while in jail, Bruce Lee wrote a book while bedridden, and dozens of other artists have made the best of a bad situation.
An Impossible Comeback After Six-Year Hiatus
After a six-year hiatus, Beck somehow came back to beat out Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams, and Beyoncé for Album of the Year. Colors showcases how the artist pioneered the 1990s but it’s more extroverted and celebratory than his albums in between the beginning and now.
Surprisingly, the pop-ish album sounds like it could stand besides of someone like Bruno Mars or Ed Sheeran, but he’s trying to say something. “It was interesting, this duality of playing the songs from the album and wanting to play thee newer ones,” he said. “I’m ready to celebrate now. Let’s make something happen.”
Despite being more poppy than the personal songs on Morgan Phase, Colors showcases a “period of affirmation and joy after the hardship of struggle.” The artist has a new appreciation of being present and optimistic, despite past pains.
In many ways, this is the exact opposite of his song “Loser” back in the 1990s. “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey,” he mused. “Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me? Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare…”
90s Artist Ends Up On The Greener Grass
“Sometimes life will kick you so hard that you don’t even know if you’ll ever have any pleasure again,” said the man behind the smash hit, “Loser.” He added, “But, when you do finally reach that moment, the joy is more intense, more vivid. That’s where this new music is coming from.”
Essentially, this goes back to the expression about the darkest hour being just before the dawn. Everyone has dealt with some sort of heartbreak and then somehow gotten through. When the smoke finally clears, things better, more clear, and it might even be hard to remember the pain felt before.
For the musician, Colors is about the pleasure of simply being alive. With such a message, the music is obviously going to be more pop-like than rock.
Slacker Turned Workaholic Emerges
Beck emerged in the slacker mentality of the 1990s. When his name got big, he still felt weird on the billboard charts and was unpredictable on stage. His guitarist Smokey Hormel used to tell a story about a show in an LA Club where women ran running from the bathroom followed by the lead singer with his leaf blower.
Not only was the move insane but also felt some pre-meditated. Because of all of the noise, the people upstairs ran down to check on the commotion. Among the chaos, Rick Rubin and various Hollywood types wanted to see this rebel. Hormel described the action as a “I-don’t-give-a-f**k thing to do.”
This was only a portion of his original persona. Back then, the artist was just as likely to show up in a Nudie suit as he was to borrow dialogue from Care Bears for a song or use an old used car lot for a music video. Basically, the “Loser” would dumpster-dive for pop culture references to reinvigorate.
In 1994, the song “Loser” hit the charts and changed the artist’s life for history. Surprisingly, his next piece of advice was to slow down and temporarily disappear.
Always Do The Opposite Of What You’re Told
“The people I worked with all told me to stop,” said Beck. “They said, the way it works is, you’ve got to go away and then people will get hungry for something again.” Instead, he decided to do the exact opposite. When told to do less, he decided to do more. Lots more.
“It was really difficult for me, but then I learned to just keep making music. I don’t have to put it all out,” he added. This meant making music alone and not getting feedback, but staying creative and continuing to flex that artistic muscle. The artist goes back and fourth on proper rest but nothing is certainly not in his wheelhouse.
The more music he makes, the less he has to feel precious about making it. Instead, he pumped out music, which basically made the occasional releases feel sporadic to audiences, even though there was a creative timeline within his influence. In the end, the artist knows that “the music we love most brings people together.”
Have you bought his new album Colors that won Album of the Year?