Beck Gets (Kind of) Blue

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RONALD CADIZ/CORBIS OUTLINE

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He is also singing some of the most devastating lyrics of his career. Breakups are to singers what World War II is to historians, but Beck distinguishes himself with lines like "Your sorry eyes cut through the bone/They make it hard to leave you alone ... Baby you're a lost cause" and "Seen the end of the day come too late/Seen the love you had turning into hate/Had to act like I didn't even care/But I did so I got stranded standing there." As failed-relationship albums go, it's nearly as good as U2's Achtung Baby, although Sea Change's uniformity of pace and tone causes it to flag a bit near the end. ("We recorded a song about a border-patrol cop that sort of sounds like a Delta blues video game," says Beck. "But, you know, it didn't make a lot of sense for this record.")

Listeners will no doubt cling to Sea Change as Beck's most personal album, though he says, "I've always challenged the idea that serious material is more indicative of who a person is. I don't think the laughing side of a human being is any less them than the side where they're depressed." Beck has a tough time staying serious, even when performing his new songs. During a brief tour in August, he alternated between ballads, covers, requests from the audience and improvised riffs about Axl Rose. "I may ruin my career tonight," he giddily told the audience. Yes — and that's why they came.

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