This is Jeff Beck‘s eleventh studio album. Naturally, there’s lots of dynamics, sonics and tricks of the hands for guitar fans to drool over.
There’s also plenty of quite pointed and loud (in spirit) commentary. J.B. announced this to the press when he explained the record’s titular device of a megaphone: “I really wanted to make a statement about some of the nasty things I see going on in the world today, and I loved the idea of being at a rally and using this loud device to shout my point of view.”
The album’s raison d’etre can be summed up in the perambulations of a ballad, “Scared for the Children,” composed by Beck, Carmen Vandenberg and Rosie Bones, the local London lasses he’s teamed up with. The tune opens with a delicate run, then “we skipped school again/lookin’ like a fool again,” followed by all these reasons why we should be concerned about our offspring growing up in this unsavory world he sees. Then, at around 4:09, he breaks out the Strat and flies up to the ozone, deftly seguéd from the delicate acoustic riff that took off from singer Rosie’s cockney commentary on the state of world affairs.
Beck has always been a boundary-pusher, and while that goes for what he’s done for the state of music, there’s no one whose limits he’s pushed harder than his own. I think that’s what he had in mind when he left his comfort zone once again to collaborate with singer Bones and guitarist Vandenberg on the writing and their producer Filippo Cimatti, who brought drummer Davide Sollazzi and bassist Giovanni Pallotti to the party.
When he left the Yardbirds and came up with Truth, it was a cosmic tilt of the universe in the direction of musical epiphany, some say the birth of hard rock (and certainly one of them). Same when he partnered with Jan Hammer on their Wired-era journey; Geoffrey Arnold Beck proclaimed the era of jazz-rock. This time out he is not looking to shake things up musically, but this collection of 11 songs is 46 minutes of very clear and, again, high-volume statement.
The album’s opener, “The Revolution Will Be Televised” – with a name-check nod to conceptual originator Gil Scott-Heron – features spoken lyrics from Rosie, almost a chant of the refrain, but: if you take in the revolution “from the safety of your sofas, there won’t be much of a revolution to watch.” There’s a pause when this cut ends and then “Live in the Dark” starts, featuring Beck’s explosive guitars, some power drumming and that voice again.
“Pull It” is like the guitars that ate Chicago. Seriously overdriven, Skrillexed and dive-bombed, the cut ends flatly, then transitions right into hard rocker “Thugs Club” in a brilliant bit of album pacing. And lest you think this is an academic exercise of political and social dissertation, think again. “Right Now” is a blitzkrieg of axe-wielding squall punctuated by the oratorio-rapped exclamation points of the song’s leitmotif: “Don’t know what it is but we want it right now.”
“Shame” harkens back to fifties doo-wop rhythms, updated by Beck’s Blow-By-Blow cum Santo & Johnny “Sleepwalk” slide work. “Edna” is just a snippet, a punctuation mark to glide us along to “The Ballad of the Jersey Wives.” Beck is clearly having fun here with the guitar textures. The song doesn’t so much end as it bangs with a whimper.
And that brings us neatly to “O.I.L.,” which it’ll take me a while to figure out the significance of, but meantime – no worries – my inner guitar geek is satiated with J.B. having a ball running up and down the fretboard… and dancing around the bass player.
The album’s 11th and last song, while no nod to Lennon’s “Imagine,” the “Shrine” by the sea, is a metaphor for some kind of Orwellian philosophy: “Who do I believe in? I believe in me.”
Beck is clearly ready for as well as fired up about the new world we live in today. Is the world ready for the latest new Jeff Beck?