Beck, "Colors" (Capitol Records)
Singer-songwriter Beck has never been very good at hiding how he's feeling. If you made it through the defeated melancholy of "Sea Change" without wanting to hurl yourself off a cliff, congrats. But the thing is, Beck doesn't hide when he's happy either.
A very different Beck comes across on "Colors," a hook-driven bubbly CD he made with in-demand producer Greg Kurstin, best known for his work with Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Sia and the Foo Fighters. Beck might be known more for his finely tuned downer rock, but he's mostly angst-free here. One song is even titled "I'm So Free." (The new tune "Fix Me" — a perfect title for the old Beck — turns out not to be mournful at all.)
The 10-track "Colors" is Beck's most accessible, radio-friendly offering in years but, this being Beck, it's brilliantly layered, with plenty of interesting things happening under the hood. There's pan flute, handclaps and glockenspiel on it, for goodness' sake.
Beck hasn't been this overtly poppy since "Midnite Vultures" in 1999 but that was harsh-sounding and more than a little nutty in comparison. "Colors" is smooth and warm and light. In fact, there are plenty of allusions to Beck emerging from darkness. "Found our way through the lost years/ Now the day brings it all here," he sings in the title song.
We got a good hint this direction was coming in 2015 when Beck released "Dreams" from the new album. It's a strummy, drum-driven dance song that's all about putting your arms in the air but belied by lyrics about "trouble on the way."
Other songs tumble from a happy place. The super "Up All Night" is a sweet song about older lovers — or maybe happy dads taking care of babies — in the quiet hours when "night is crawling up to the day." ''No Distraction" feels reminiscent of The Fixx and "Seventh Heaven" sounds like something from The Stone Roses. "Square One" finds Beck going in and out of his falsetto beautifully to create a perfect slice of shimmering pop.
Perhaps the most unconventional song is "Wow," a trippy, cowboy-dance hip-hop tune that swipes the theme from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and adds it to lyrics seemingly inspired by some weed. ("Wow/ It's like right now/ It's like wow.") It should not make sense. But this is Beck, and he somehow makes it so. Actually, that goes for the whole CD, too.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits