"The sun don't shine, even when it's day/Drive all night, just to feel like you're OK . . ." Out of nearly anyone's mouth but Beck Hansen's, these lines would come off clichéd and cheaply sentimental. But Beck -- emotionally flinty at best, gimlet-eyed and nasty at worst -- isn't one to let any sap sneak into his carefully edited opuses, and when these lines ring out from the opening track of his new album, they sound . . . sincere.
Musically, the album is a gorgeous document of progressive folk, à la Mutations, but more multidimensional and melodic; knob-twiddler Nigel Godrich is as felicitous as usual in helping to create the sound of spaced-out weariness, making Sea Change pretty much one highlight after another. The songs that stand out do so only because, as on the slinky, psychedelic "Paper Tiger," they are up to something musically different from the bulk of the album. Similarly, "Little One" stands apart, churning the meditative tone that pervades the record into restless, menaced rock akin to "Karma Police." And that's the sea change, as it were: The atmosphere has shifted. Beck has cast off the snarky high jinks and sardonic glee that all but defined him and made a sincere record, a record that feels.