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Spotlight on: Sea Change by Beck
Alternate: Straight on Till Morning by Blues Traveler

Sea Change by Beck Beck, Sea Change

Beck's albums follow a pattern, at least so far. There are his fun, commercial albums ( Mellow Gold, Odelay, Midnite Vultures) immediately followed by his serious, more intimate albums ( One Foot in the Grave, Mutations). The order of release has been Mellow Gold, One Foot in the Grave, Odelay, Midnite Vultures, and Mutations.

Something you may not know is that when Beck signed on with Geffen Records, his contract stated that he had permission to release any album deemed non-commercial on a smaller label (as he did with One Foot in the Grave, which is carried by K Records). However, his next "non-commercial" effort, Mutations was deemed to be potentially commercial by Geffen and they decided to keep it. And now that Beck has become a star whose fans will follow him anywhere, any Beck album is potentially commercial.

Following the accepted pattern, his last album was the millenium party album, Midnite Vultures, which he wanted to make the most fun he could, so guess what? It's depression time. Deep, deep depression time.

Beck is truly an artist not afraid to test himself and use all of his influences to their fullest extent. The majority of Sea Change was written after the breakup of Beck and his longtime girlfriend. These songs just drip with sadness and resignation. Similarities to Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson songs will be immediately apparent, and these songs have the definite potential to last just as long. But the surrounding content is pure Beck, especially the little touches that he and producer Nigel Godrich have added like the distortion at the end of "The Golden Age."

He starts us off on a positive note, "Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin," but immediately veers into negativity with comments like "the sun don't shine even when it's day." In "Guess I'm Doing Fine," for which his decidedly non-boyish voice is perfect, he uses his ironic sense to come up with lines like

It's only lies that I'm living
It's only tears that I'm crying
It's only you that I'm losing
Guess I'm doing fine.
His songs are much more personal than most of us are used to, and I expect that this will put off some people, especially those who know Beck only through Odelay and Midnite Vultures and their songs like "Where It's At" and "Sexx Laws." But, contrary to them, I find that this appeals to me in much the same way that Mutations did (and still does), it gives me a chance to see the man behind the music.

Often the production of a song can hide its true nature, covering it with beeps and whistles that have nothing really to do with the original song. The slight "coverings" that Beck and Godrich have given Sea Change merely serve to enhance the songs' moods and emotions, just as they did on Mutations.

I realize I am comparing this album to Mutations a lot. But while they and One Foot in the Grave are similar in form (roots-based, intimate works with little tweaking), Sea Change is really more of a parallel journey with the same starting point but a different destination. Sea Change is proving to be my favorite Beck album yet and I look forward to his next efforts more so because of it.

Many artists are upset about the number of file-sharing programs on the internet and are responding angrily against the whole process. Other artists realize that the best way to get people to buy your music is to have a free way to listen to it first.

This is the theory behind listening bars in record stores that have been around as long as recorded music has. The only difference between then and now is that now the music is in the form of electronic files that can be easily duplicated and shared. But the principle still holds.

Therefore, the more intelligent artists are embracing the internet as a means to share their art with listeners. A major user of this was Wilco, who released their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on their web site months before it was available in stores. The end result? It has been their best-selling album to date and has gained them a fan base (myself included) far exceeding their expectations. (Other artists like Smashing Pumpkins and REM have available on their web sites albums unavailable anywhere else.)

Beck has also utilized this fantastic opportunity, releasing the songs off Sea Change one by one on his web site, so that his fans (and anyone else) could hear the songs they would be buying beforehand. What this did in my case was make me more eager to get the album once it was released, not finding a way to get the music for free, which is inevitably more difficult.

Straight on Till Morning by Blues Traveler Alternate Recommendation: Blues Traveler, Straight on Till Morning

I'm not a "die-hard" Blues Traveler fan. My first album was Four but I think Straight on Till Morning beats it hands down. I don't listen to it all the time, but when I'm in the mood for it, nothing else can take its place.

"Carolina Blues," "Felicia," "Canadian Rose," "Yours"--these are all terrific songs. And the album fits together as a whole wonderfully. This is a great driving album, or for just listening around the home.

It also helps that I happen to really like the color blue.

Of the two Blues Traveler albums I have as of this writing, this is the one I keep coming back to. I think that says a lot. It's too bad that Straight on Till Morning didn't get the mainstream attention that Four did, because it is by far the superior piece of work.

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