Beck/Various Artists: Song Reader (Warby Parker/Capitol) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Beck/Various Artists

Song Reader

Warby Parker/Capitol

Aug 06, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Even for an artist well-known for his eclectic, shifting skins, this can be said: Song Reader is the strangest record Beck's put out in 20 years. Forget its unusual birth two years ago as a book of sheet music; this is his most experimental collection of songs since Stereopathetic Soulmanure. Released on the back of Morning Phasearguably his most accessible recordSong Reader will throw more casual fans for a loop, but Beck's longtime followers will find it fascinating. 

Necessary disclosure: Song Reader is mostly a Beck album in composition credit alone. Beck himself only sings on a small handful of the record's 20 tracks; instead it features artists such as Laura Marling, Jack White, Jeff Tweedy, Norah Jones, Eleanor Friedberger, Loudon Wainwright III, and Fun., among others. Playing like an all-star compilation album, the varied performers swerve through Beck's many songwriting styles at a pace that feels both exciting and reckless.

Jarvis Cocker brings cultured allure and Bowie-esque flair to "The Eyes That Say I Love You"; in the Waits-ian "Rough On Rats," David Johansen growls "Your scarecrow spiders and your shipwreck bones/The fossilized bibles of Geronimo Jones/His star spangled army in their roadhouse clothes/Because a hero can't bronze his soul." (Song Reader's lyricsregardless of who's singing themare unmistakably Beck's.) Not all interpretations are equal, however; Jack Black's hammy "We All Wear Cloaks" is an overly silly sore spot. But the lows are worth enduring for the album's many highs, the highest of which is the haunting "America, Here's My Boy," sung by cult soul artist Swamp Dogg. The song is written from the heart-wrenching POV of a parent losing their child in war; Swamp Dogg's performance and its stripped-down, jazzy accompaniment feel otherworldly. As uneven as it is, Beck's fans will find this experimental release to be an essential one. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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