Sound — 8
What new musical path does an artist one who has pretty much done everything and established himself as one of the best rock guitarists in the world decide to tackle after about 35 years in the business? A surprisingly daring one that borders New Age territory. Jeff Beck's acclaimed career as an instrumental virtuoso hasn't necessarily stuck to one particular genre, but his latest album Emotion & Commotion often takes a turn toward the mellow and ambient. You could even go as far as to say that it conveys a sense of spirituality because every note struck by Beck is so solemn. There are moments where the energy picks up and the bluesy/soulful side of the guitarist returns, but the vast majority of Emotion & Commotion is driven by the subdued.
Rather than exploding with awe-inspiring riffs right off the bat, Beck takes a more reverent approach. The first track Corpus Christi Carol,' a Middle English hymn once covered by Jeff Buckley, delivers a David Gilmour-like flair. Beck takes his time in playing the base melody, which though simple in essence, is a massive tear-jerker. Perhaps as if to quell the fears of his rock purist fans, he follows Corpus Christ Carol with the grooving rock tune Hammerhead, which channels everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page. One of the few tracks written by Beck on this album, it's also one of the most memorable not to mention the fact that it's one of the rare rock instrumentals.
Beck utilizes the vocals talents of Joss Stone for I Put A Spell On You and There's No Other Me, and her soulful presence alone gives the CD a shot in the arm. She provides a nice balance for Beck, who never allows himself to overtake the spotlight on either one of the tracks. Regardless of whether Stone was a guest or not on There's No Other Me, that particular track features the most unusual arrangement on the entire CD. While the verses are fairly standard, the chorus just erupts into a mass of chaos. Oddly enough, the chaotic mass of noise works even when the song ends fairly abruptly, fading out from that wall of sound. Vocalist Imelda May also appears as a guest on the melancholy Lilac Wine (another track once covered by Buckley), although here style is more akin to a traditional chanteuse.
To further drive home the point that Beck might be in a new stage in his musical interests are his cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Nessun Dorma, and the choral-based Elegy For Dunkirk. Each contains sorrowful melodies that certainly seem to be a common undercurrent for Emotion & Commotion, which features a 64-piece orchestra on many of the tracks. These are selections that may not sync up with what Beck's rock fans might expect or desire, but they most certainly confirm that he's willing to set aside the wow factor for subtlety and taste. And just like the title suggests, this is one solo guitarist who knows a thing or two about emotion.
Lyrics — 8
The bulk of Emotion & Commotion is dedicated to the instrumental work of Beck, but guest musicians Joss Stone, Olivia Safe, and Imelda May do provide a nice contrast. Their respective songs have been heard by various artists decade after decade, with the exception of Stone's There's No Other Me. So in general, the songs on the album will feature familiar lyrical content. Each of the vocal tracks are strikingly different, and that's a benefit.
Overall Impression — 8
For those who were massive fans of Beck-Ola or Blow By Blow, you'll be in for a bit of a shake-up. Hammerhead is the only track on Emotion & Commotion that even comes close to resembling the meaty goodness of the classic rock era, but you can't fault Beck for taking a new direction at 65 years of age. Replacing the grooving licks are haunting hymns that are beautiful in their restrained nature. Emotion & Commotion might leave some Beck fans cold, but that's not because this is a CD that is lacking quality.