Somebody's Webpage on Twitter Somebody's Webpage on Facebook Somebody's Webpage on Patreon

Sea Change by Beck (2002)

A few years ago, when I first listened to Sea Change, I didn't care for it. The CD was released in 2002, and I concluded that the somber, reflective songs contained on it were Beck's musical acknowledgement of the 9/11 tragedies. Or perhaps, I thought, a break-up with a girlfriend had left our once quirky, upbeat hero in a deep depression. Beck has confirmed in interviews that the end of a long-term relationship was indeed a major influence in the writing of these songs, which, it turns out, occurred mostly before 9/11.

Even so, the album contains several lyrics that seem like references to that dark day in history. For example, the eerie second song, "Paper Tiger," contains the lyric, "no more ashes to ashes / no more cinders from the sky." The CD's title originates from the eleventh track, "Little One," and is contained in the ominous line: "Drown, drown / Sailors run aground / In a sea change nothing is safe."

Several years have now passed since I first heard this CD. 9/11, thankfully, is almost a full decade in the past, and has been somewhat resolved by the reported death of Osama bin Laden in May. Whether or not you believe the mainstream media's explanation of 9/11 (which I don't, by the way), the death of America's official villain has the psychological effect of saying: "All of that is part of the past, we can now move on with our lives." As a result, I am able to hear this music in a different context. It no longer seems depressing.

In fact, recent listenings of Sea Change return me to the peaceful, hopeful mental state I was in immediately preceding 9/11. It makes me think of a department store where I worked around that time. It was a very laid-back job, and consisted mostly of putting cardboard boxes into a compacter, walking around the store to collect clothing hangers, and changing burned out light bulbs. I found a feeling of peacefulness there, but various complications in my life led to my quitting in early 2002.

The World Trade Center attack I had witnessed on television a few months earlier had seemed like a dark eviction notice, demanding my immediate withdrawal from a short-lived state of serenity. The prolonged economic recession and misguided war that followed those events confirmed that, in fact, a sea change of some kind was underway, not only in my world, but in everybody else's too.

What makes this CD such a radical departure from earlier Beck CDs is the serious tone that comes through in the songwriting. The goofy little bleeps, blips, and sound effects commonly heard on his other albums are kept to a minimum. In place of the sarcastic tongue-in-cheek poetry, there is a sense of emotional honesty and realness. I would say it's at least in the running to be Beck's Sgt. Pepper's, if you don't mind me hauling out that tired old musical benchmark. His magnum opus, maybe?

Most of Sea Change is slow and soft, almost to the point of becoming background music, which is part of why I like it so much. It's perfect to listen to while you're doing other things, such as working on artwork or fixing that leaky faucet. The lush string arrangements throughout the album are like a soothing tonic for your over-stressed mind. There are elements of country in a few of the songs, such as steel and acoustic guitars, although I would definitely not consider this a country album. It's more of an eclectic mix -- like all of Beck's music -- as evidenced by the addition of some slow hip-hop beats throughout the disc.

The final song, "Side of the Road," sums up the album very well. The sparse, slow arrangement -- no drums, a couple of lazy acoustic guitars, and a minimal smattering of electric piano notes -- conveys a mood of quiet resignation, and suggests that the emotional low points of our lives are, in the end, followed by a sense of peace.

I now see that the passing of time was necessary for me to understand the deeper meaning of this album. It is while rummaging through the rubble of broken dreams that we find hope for the future. Such moments are a time of rare clarity in which the true direction of our lives is revealed. For those willing to start again, the end of the road becomes a door to a new beginning. This applies both to individuals, and to the world as a whole.

Sea Change is a profoundly significant artifact of the early 21st century, which historians of the distant future will certainly describe as a time of transition and uncertainty for the human race.

Reviewed by Aaron Shore 7/1/11

See more Favorite Albums of the Moment

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...