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Jeff Beck - Emotion & Commotion CD (album) cover

EMOTION & COMMOTION

Jeff Beck

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.07 | 50 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
2 stars It probably isn't entirely true that all aging rock 'n' rollers sooner or later feel the need to bolster their credentials by recording alongside a symphony orchestra. Maybe Jeff Beck genuinely believed it might be a worthwhile experiment, and a welcome change of musical pace after three albums of galvanized high-tech electronica.

But this is one guitarist already able to outperform a full orchestra using only his unaccompanied fretboard. Adding classical strings and woodwinds into the mix only undermines the emotive power of his own instrument.

Consider his choice of material for this long-awaited album, seven years in the making since his previous studio effort. Beck (co-) authored only two of the numbers here; another pair belong to Jason Rebello, his keyboard player / programmer (with emphasis on the latter), and the rest is an eclectic grab bag of ill-matched covers and standards, from Giacomo Puccini to Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

The first few tracks show lots of promise, beginning with a subtle, sensitive "Corpus Christi Carol" (by Benjamin Britton). The lyrical minimalism of Beck's guitar and the spare orchestration work fine as an album opener, especially when leading into the more aggressive "Hammerhead": pure electric Beck, and easily the strongest piece of music here. A relaxing interlude is provided by the easygoing "Never Alone" (a Rebello original), but the pacing of the album is then killed by the real oddball of the bunch: a more or less faithful adaptation of "Over the Rainbow" (yes, from "The Wizard of Oz").

The song can almost be shrugged it off as a throwaway novelty, designed to highlight the melodic appeal of Beck's guitar as it apes the cadence of Judy Garland's voice. But we already knew how well Jeff Beck can make his guitar sing (and scream, and sob, and so forth and so on). The syrupy string arrangement (here, and elsewhere) doesn't exactly bring the song to life, and the balance of the album never really recovers from the sudden letdown.

The pleasant but negligible "Serene" (along with "Hammerhead", the only track co-written by Beck) is an indifferent instrumental with a dance beat tame enough for Bryan Ferry. The easy-listening Vegas lounge act vibe of "Lilac Wine" (sung by Imelda May) goes in one ear and promptly out the other, with only a token contribution from Beck himself. And the maudlin orchestrations reach a sentimental nadir in the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma", from the opera "Turandot" (in case you were wondering) and, as another reviewer noted, conspicuously missing a genuine tenor.

Elsewhere Joss Stone's otherwise soulful vocals are allowed to dip into overwrought posturing, in "I Put a Spell On You" and throughout the awkwardly titled Rebello tune "There's No Other Me". Both songs feature some tasty Beck riffing, and the latter track actually manages to generate a little heat before shamefully fading out, in mid-stride, right at the start of a ferocious and long-overdue guitar solo(!)

This all may sound like unfairly harsh criticism, and pointless for an album already numbered among the guitarist's most commercially successful. But maybe that same success was bought at the cost of the his typically razor-sharp, cutting-edge craftsmanship. Sanding down the more irregular corners of Beck's music no doubt helped make it appealing to a wider spectrum of listeners, but it also robbed the album of any sense of the commotion promised in its title. And I'm sure I'm not the first fan to arrive at that unhappy conclusion, even after trying for several months and over repeated plays to find a reason to recommend it.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |

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