Beck has been around forever—it’s been nearly 30 years since he entered the music industry, with a career spanning and combining a wide variety of genres, from folk to alt–rock to hip hop to country. He’s won multiple Grammy Awards for his singing and production, including an Album of the Year win for his 2014 album, Morning Phase.
Beck's still going at 48. After releasing “Super Cool” with Robyn and The Lonely Island in February for the upcoming film The Lego Movie 2, the musician shared “Saw Lightning” on April 15. Containing additional vocals and production from the similarly timeless Pharrell Williams, “Saw Lightning” is the first single from his next album, Hyperspace, which will be his 14th record and the first since the October 2017 release of Colors. It also reflects a longtime desire of Beck to work with Pharrell—which took about 20 years to come to fruition.
Dissecting the new song, Pharrell’s instrumentation immediately stands out. The fast–paced drum beat gets one grooving along, as do the thumping bass, keyboard chords, and xylophone triads. Tossing in Beck’s classic folksy guitar, humming support vocals, and a few jangling harmonica riffs, “Saw Lightning” has a clear appeal to listeners as an upbeat, post–modern alt–rock piece.
However, the lyrics leave much to be desired. While Beck’s slightly dulled voice is pleasant on its own, the content itself is completely lacking. The singer waxes about seeing lightning that, “Struck me down / down to the ground,” but little else. It’s as if he’s simply describing bad weather, without any metaphorical context entailed. Additionally, Beck becomes unintelligible at points, including during the lead into the second chorus, where he sings in a manner reminiscent of a mumble rapper. Add in the “Hey, hey, hey” and the “Ho, ho, ho” ad libs prior to stating “Saw lightning,” and the singer’s lines come across as a jumbled, uninspired, uninteresting mess.
With this clash between outstanding work by Beck and Pharrell on the instrumental and the former’s weak substance in his verses, its challenging to look past the faults in "Saw Lightning" and still maintain excitement for Hyperspace. If Beck can replicate the pure quality of Morning Phase throughout the rest of the album, then this first single was just a fluke. If it fails to do that, then the record will turn out to be an example of mediocrity that might signal that it’s time for the musician to call it a career.