Saturday, 31 October 2015

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.5 - "It's All In Your Mind" (Beck)

No-one needs me to tell them that the timing of an album's release can do as much to affect its impact and legacy as the tracks it contains does. When Beck put out Sea Change, an album almost unrecognisable as being from the same artist who gave us the kaleidoscopic buzzing charge of Odelay or the more tightly-bound funkscapes of Midnite Vultures. There was no doubt Sea Change was a bareak-up album, and Beck's public split with a famous actress at around the same time led some wag - their name now mercifully lost to history - to suggest it should be subtitled "Crying Over Winona Ryder".

In fact, Sea Change marks the end of a quite different relationship, one that had lasted for eight years. This was always obvious from the songs themselves; not only are they not about Winona Ryder, they're not even really about crying. Instead the disc is filled with the kind of weary acceptance and troubled relationship with nostalgia that marks the end not of whirlwind romantic car-crashes (to mix my metaphors unforgivably) but the slow deflation of a longstanding concern.  Very little in this collection of songs escapes the long reach of melancholy, but it would be very much inaccurate to suggest the sadness is foregrounded.

This song - along with first single "Lost Cause", which probably has something to do with why Sea Change has the dour reputation it does - is the closest the disc comes to genuine misery (which is ironic given Beck originally released it seven years earlier). I'm thoroughly unashamed to say that that's why it's my favourite song on the album.  Timing works both ways; I bought Sea Change almost at the very start of my teacher training year, at a period in my life when the best I could hope for was to feel balanced between the competing panics of being unable to hack the course and having to survive the crap I knew I had to wade through in order to complete it.  For months my mantra as I walked into the school of education, or towards where I'd be picked up to be driven into my first placement school, was simply "Try not to quit until you feel the breakdown coming."  It was not a good time in my life.

"All In Your Mind" resonated with all that.  Yes, it's perhaps most plausibly read as a lament to a lover whose let their new friends sour you to a relationship that was working just fine, but it can be repurposed - as so many of the best songs can - to speak to those with mental health issues. The titular refrain suddenly sounds comforting rather than accusatory, and the singers insistence he wanted to be our good friend becomes a reminder rather than a bitter admission of defeat. Yes, these messages of hope are still awash with sadness, but so was I at the time.

All of this is married to some rather lovely music. I only found out recently that (as mentioned) this was a new recording of an old single (I've included both in the videos). It's always interesting watching artists try to reinterpret their own acoustic work; it obviously doesn't allow for the often lazy "unplugged" approach used as a substitute for actual invention. Here Beck's decision to sing in a lower vocal register, pick his guitar, add in strings, and toss off the best use of a banjo in folk rock history takes a slight sad strum and turns it into soundscape just lush enough to capture your attention and just sparse enough resonate. Wayne Coyne once told a story about Beck telling him that Midnite Vultures was where his genius had really found its expression, and Coyne disagreed: "That would be Sea Change". To be honest, I think Beck was closer to the mark than Coyne, but with a song as wonderful as this, it's not hard to see Coyne's point. Beck, it turned out, could reinvent his own material even better than he could other people's.

Back then, self-reinvention was very much on my mind.

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