Geffen - 2002 - 52 minutes

The tousled troubadour of Los Angeles chooses a thoroughly appropriate title for his new album, which marks a radical departure from the high-camp hedonism of 'Midnight Vultures'.

Beck's talent for reinvention is one of his most endearing traits, but it's easy to imagine many of his fans struggling with this morose, downbeat collection of heartfelt ballads.

Ditching the irony seems to have revitalised Beck - 'Sea Change' is streets ahead of the typical efforts of the singer-songwriter horde who have mushroomed in the last few years. He pays a visit to Serge Gainsbourg's 'Melody Nelson' album on 'Paper Tiger'; familiar motifs to fans of David Holmes who plundered the same sources on 'Don't Die Just Yet' from his 'Let's Get Killed' album. Beck takes a less epic route with the material, with a half-spoken vocal playing down the innate drama of the guitar and string samples.

The trademark gimmickry only surfaces now and then, but the backwards samples on 'Lost Cause' do little to disrupt its trad country-rock groove.

Despite its reliance on one emotional mood (suicidal and lovelorn) 'Sea Change' is still a showcase for Beck's adroit blending of influences; the acoustic miserablism of Leonard Cohen, the string-heavy histrionics of Isaac Hayes and the eclectic instrumentation of Friedmann-era Mercury Rev all skilfully combining to poignant effect. But of all his predecessors, Neil Young stands like a giant over 'Sea Change' (check the chord changes recycled from 'Old Man' on 'End Of The Day').

'Sea Change' won't be the soundtrack to many parties, but acoustic sincerity doesn't come much better than this.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: The Golden Age - Paper Tiger - Guess I'm Doing Fine - Lonesome Tears - Lost Cause - Nothing I Haven't Seen - All In Your Mind - Round The Bend - Already Dead - Sunday Sun - Little One - Side Of The Road