The Upbeat Return of Beck

Inside his comeback from the injury that nearly ended his career

NEW MORNING: Beck onstage in Las Vegas in October
FilmMagic/Getty Images
By Matt Diehl
Apr 06, 2014

"I thought, ‘This is it.’” Guiding his powder-blue 1962 Lincoln convertible down the Malibu coastline on a gray Sunday afternoon, Beck is describing the crisis that almost killed his career. It all started during the video shoot for 2005’s “E-Pro.” The clip, directed by London art collective Shynola, features Beck floating like a marionette over a series of computer-generated landscapes. During­ the 10-hour shoot, Beck performed several elaborate physical set pieces – one of which went critically wrong, resulting in a debilitating spinal injury. “There was this crazy choreography, where he was in a harness inside this moving wheel, being hit with sticks,” says Joey Waronker, Beck’s longtime drummer. “In the footage, it looked like he was flailing around. Somehow, he got seriously hurt.”

Beck doesn’t like to go into detail about his injury, “like the guy who won’t stop talking about his war wounds at the picnic.” He kept working after the accident, releasing two albums over the next three years, but his condition continued to get worse. During the tour for 2008’s Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt, Beck’s movement was noticeably limited, and eventually, he says, “I stopped touring indefinitely, and didn’t know if I ever would again. I wasn’t able to use my guitar and voice in the same way. It altered my life for a long time.”

Beck’s output became scattershot – he produced records for Stephen Malkmus and Charlotte Gainsbourg, bashed out covers of classic LPs with his buddies for his Record Club project, and put out Song Reader, a collection of tunes written solely as sheet music. He wondered if he’d ever regain the form that made him one of the most exciting artists of the Nineties. “An executive said he thought I was better as a producer than as an artist,” he says. “I kind of took that to heart. I considered doing other things, like putting out books or, I don’t know, making T-shirts?”

By 2012, Beck seemed more like his old self at concerts, but his real comeback happened at the end of February, when he released Morning Phase, his first album in six years. It’s a cosmically pretty folk-rock classic that mixes atmospheric production with subtly psychedelic tunes. “We were trying to create this spell, like a landscape slightly altering over time,” says Beck, dressed like a stylish longshoreman in his knit wool cap, fitted peacoat and French designer kicks. “[Everyone who made the album] was feeling something – the ends of long marriages, the passing of loved ones. There’s a bittersweet perspective that comes in the morning after something like that.”

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East

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