Three years, one breakup and a national disaster later, Beck returns with Sea Change, a quiet, reflective album that reunites him with his Mutations producer, Nigel Godrich. Once again, the duo stacks pristine arrangements over an acoustic-guitar center and Beck's anti-folk warble, and once again, they do so stunningly.
Still, a Mutations clone this isn't. With Sea Change, Beck ditches his trademark psychedelic wordplay and talks straight about, more often than not, relationship woes. 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, he sings on a typically morose track.
But for all his despondence, Beck is savvy enough to know that without good songs, a descent into sad lessons about love will be just that -- a descent. So even though the mood is decidedly downbeat, Beck's studio workmanship shines brightly, particularly on back-to-back tracks "Lonesome Tears" and "Lost Cause." On the first, a heartbroken narrative gives way to a breathtaking string climax. On the second, the album's unlikely highlight, a glistening acoustic guitar frames Beck at his most defeated, ranting about a relationship gone bad and a town gone bland. If Midnite Vultures is the party album, Sea Change is its consequence: the partied-too-hard-and-now-regret-every-moment-of-the-last-six-months record.