Such is the ambiguity surrounding most of Beck Hansen’s career it’s always been difficult to know whether he’s been running away from either the public or himself.
This profound dislocation(s) has meant that whenever he appears in preparation to reboot one of his past identities there’s a wave of overly nostalgic hype, so after the first few bars of Saw Lightning, on which he and producer Pharrell Williams ostensibly give the slacker-hop of Loser a makeover, those who always felt he’d meet himself coming back the other way will have cause to think themselves correct.
Hallelujah they may cry. After all the diversions and back roads – including the unconvincingly clean lines of 2017’s Colors – here was the Beck that the 120 minutes generation bought into, a maverick who never belonged in the straight world, even if it was cool enough with him.
It perhaps will surprise only them however that this is Hyperspace’s only postcard back to that galaxy. Hunkered down with Williams for the majority of it, much of the rest leans heavily on the airbrushed nothingness of 70’s kitsch, the same retro obsession which first brought Air to prominence at around the same time we ditched our check shirts for safari suits and fondues.
A big hand then for the temperate roll here of Stars, but the effect is most obviously felt on Chemical, a hazy psychedelic weave which is equal parts space dust and stoned yacht rock bravura. Underneath the chintz however lies a familiar air of melancholy, a blueness expressed on closer Everlasting Nothing: “I woke up in a movie/Didn’t know if it was my life/When it ended, I laughed/Before I cried”. It’s not an isolated moment of introspection either, as on the frosty pathos of Dark Places we find the singer musing on the late night gaps everyone finds deep within their soul.
Thankfully he’s not alone for long: Sky Ferreira joins him for the relatively carefree Die Waiting, while a near inaudible turn by Chris Martin on Stratosphere is, being objective, a pointless feature of an otherwise delicately nuanced slice of AOR.
This might be considered an unlikely place then to find one of your career defining moments, but here again Williams adds his immutable production magic, the skittering beats of See Through the chassis of a winningly deft R&B meld which, even more impressively, might even give Frank Ocean a moment or two’s pause.
It’s the apex point of an album where for once the execution outboxes the suitcase of ideas. This may be a signal that Beck’s 900 lives as a creator have all been spent up, but whilst millions might be happy with the past catching up on him, it still probably wouldn’t be what it used to be.