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by Raymond Cummings

February 26, 2014

Beck's Best Ballads

by Raymond Cummings  |  February 26, 2014

As Beck releases a whole new album's worth of contemplative songs with Morning Phase, we look back at his greatest ballads throughout the years. Initially known and lauded for his pop-culture Molotov cocktails – "Loser," "Where It's At," "Sexx Laws" – Beck Hansen would gradually amass a veritable war chest of off-kilter ballads. There's a reassuring warmth to the tenor of his voice that makes even his superficial madlibs seem super official, so that once you've let, say, the New Wave-y standalone single "I Won't Be Long" or the Prince pastiche "Debra" into your life, they'll lurk around the psyche like party guests you'll never want to shoo away.

What's impressive is Hansen's range and versatility in the ballad lane, from "Outcome," his sad-sack, disillusioned duet with Love As Laughter's Sam Jayne on 1994's One Foot in the Grave, to the sashaying, samba-flavored lament "Missing" from 2005's Guero. "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)" -- which scored its own CD-5 maxi-single back when Mellow Gold was raiding college playlists -- is a winky, jangly bit of iconography-smashing folk from a dude who had no clue that he was en route to icon status. "New Round," a psychedelic meander, drifts and drips along in a netherland somewhere between melodic and scatterbrained -- only to apparently reveal itself as a way to kill time while waiting for dinner. The rose-colored throwback pop of "Orphans" haunts, ingratiates and soothes, all at once. The staggered cadence of "Girl Dreams" belies what is, in retrospect, a heartbreaking piece of songcraft.

And then, of course, there's "Lost Cause" -- effectively the Beck ballad to end all Beck ballads. The crown jewel of 2002's Sea Change, an album arriving in the wake of Hansen's split with stylist Leigh Limon, "Lost Cause" represented the artist laying himself bare for the first time over plain acoustic chords and twinkling effects, aching and irony-free. And now, he's attempted to revive that poignant effect with tracks like "Morning" and "Unforgiven" from Morning Phase.

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