Rock music has rarely been as smart, restless and creative as when it is in the hands of Beck Hansen. Ever since he first struck (mellow) gold with the slacker sacrament ‘Loser’, he’s been alternative music’s resident chameleon, shifting seamlessly from reflective folk to sample-heavy hip hop.
His magnum opus, 1996’s Odelay, firmly established his genre-hopping greatness, but it was by no means a happy accident – if 1994’s Mellow Gold was a surprise sleeper hit, Odelay was designed for the radio. Since then, the slinky Scientologist has transitioned from more organic, pastoral records (1998’s high water mark Mutations and 2014’s Grammy-gobbling Morning Phase, to name but two) to brash, bold LPs replete with bouncy hits and sleek synths (1999’s Midnite Vultures and 2005’s Guero are good places to start).
It makes sense, then, that his thirteenth studio album, Colors, is an artistic escape from the folk-tinged troubadour of Morning Phase. While touring the latter, Hansen wrestled with the lack of immediate-sounding songs, which birthed the Balearic beauty of ‘Dreams’, one of his finest songs and something of a rock resurgence. His newest single, however, has certainly divided opinion. ‘Up All Night’ takes Beck’s chart-courting chants and buffs them to a sonic sheen, the sort of streamlined, perfectly symmetrical song that could have been spewed out of any Top 40-baiting songwriting machine.
Those that have felt repelled by ‘Up All Night’ have discussed its obvious pop leanings, as if it is war planned by PowerPoint. But in the world of music, is blatant manufacture such a bad thing? ‘Up All Night’ may lack the cleverness of Beck’s early work, but it displays the wordsmith’s natural ability with a melody. By putting himself in a box – crammed in with tracks of Swiftian and Stylesian magnitude – Beck has come up not sucking his thumb, but fist pumping in triumph, showcasing his ability to take his hitherto erratic style and successfully creating something more succinct and streamlined.
As a track itself, ‘Up All Night’ is, without comparison to other Beck works, a deceptively throwaway number. Originally released, briefly, in 2016 and featured on FIFA ’17, beneath its barrage of instruments, shuffling handclaps and pulsating bass is a song that’s loaded with sweet sentiment, Beck’s echo-laden refrain of “just wanna stay up all night with you” a simple, but effective, line of adolescent longing that needs no over-explanation. Like bands such as Empire of the Sun and Phoenix before him, Beck has used synths and keyboards to his advantage, allowing them to accompany rather than rule, and the slickness within ‘Up All Night’ gives it bittersweet, breezy emotion that you wouldn’t get from Girls Aloud.
Colors seems set to live up to its name, producing a Beck for 2017 that is adept at tackling chart-pursuant music without losing any of his original identity.