Beck's Long Balancing Act

NPR | Feb. 25, 2014 5:17 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 25, 2014 7:47 a.m.

Contributed By:

NPR Staff

Beck's new album, his first since 2008, is called Morning Phase.

Beck's new album, his first since 2008, is called Morning Phase.

Peter Hapak, Courtesy of the artist

When Beck last appeared on Morning Edition in 2008, there were hints that all was not well. His most recent album, Modern Guilt, sounded unusually bleak. His recording contract was up. And there was the large exit sign on the record’s back cover. It made you wonder.

After years spent producing albums for other people, releasing a collection of sheet music and struggling with a back injury that kept him away from live performance, Beck is back. His new album, Morning Phase, isn’t exactly sunny — but it has a breezy quality, like clouds parting after a heavy storm.

Speaking with host Steve Inskeep, Beck says that at this point in his career, more than ever before, he feels the pressing need to innovate — even if that means taking an established form and turning it on its side.

“I’m aware of the time that I’m in, and I don’t want to reject it; you know, I want to be part of it,” Beck says. “I’m aware that a lot of music that was made in the past was done really well. It was perfected, in certain genres. I probably spent a lot of my formative years feeling like there’s probably not really any point in going back to a certain style of music that’s been done well. I think a lot of people my age felt that way.

“But I think, at the same time, you don’t want to throw away or ignore things that were good in the past. I think there’s a way to engage or carry on some of these things and then try to bring new things to it. You know, you can go from extremes: You can try to recreate the past and do sort of a pastiche, or you can reject anything that sounds remotely from another era, and just embrace electronic music. But even electronic music, at this point, goes back to the ‘70s and some of the early electronic pioneers. Maybe we’re at a point where we’re just engaging with all of it.”

Hear more of the conversation, including what happens when a hired orchestra punches out in the middle of a recording session, at the audio link.

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