Jeff Beck has a few things to get off his chest and he does so quite well across the 12 pieces that comprise his first studio album in six years, Loud Hailer. A loud hailer is a portable mouthpiece, a bullhorn, the kind of thing you’d use if you wanted to say something nice and loud. Some of Beck’s best-known albums feature nary a word, so it’s amusing to think that he’d populate a late-career record with all kinds of them. Many of them angry.
Beck, who turned 72 this year, has seen a few things and there’s plenty about the world today he clearly doesn’t like. He takes up the blurring line between fantasy and reality in the age of drones and violent video games on “The Revolution Will Be Televised”. He blasts a culture that insists not on instant karma but instant gratification via “Right Now” and tears politicians and the one percent to shreds via “Thugs Club”. Vocalist Rosie Bones spits out disgust throughout each, channeling the rage of the common classes. Beck and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg create roaring, serrated guitar lines that sound like they crawled from a Louisiana swamp or a cotton field in Mississippi and directly into our speakers.
It takes a moment, but you soon realize that Beck’s created a modern blues album. He’s reacting to his musical environment as much as to the social and political realities around him. You can hear pain and anger in the bend of the notes, the fluid runs up and down the neck.
Bones bemoans the coming age of un-enlightenment during “Live In The Dark”. Meanwhile “Scared For The Children” may be one of the most heart-wrenching statements about our times you’ll ever hear with Beck playing his most majestic and masterful lines. “The Ballad Of The Jersey Wives” is a tribute to the women left behind post-9/11. It’s haunting, lyrical, free of sentimentality and sage wisdom. It is the sound of grief and frustration rendered sans apology. “O.I.L” relies on a funky groove that sends us back to the New York City clubs of the ‘80s and ‘90s for a moment. But it’s far from fodder for the dance floor but instead a protest against an undue reliance on that blackest of substances.
“Shame” recalls the work the maestro has done with Joss Stone and Imelda May, though it’s no attempt to regain past glories but instead to create a present one. The meditative closer “Shrine” acknowledges that maybe some of this protest stuff has been said before. Still, it wouldn’t hurt for it to be said again and again until we can learn to resist our most destructive tendencies. Maybe it’s too late for that. Maybe there’s still time for us to learn, maybe there’s still time for us to find some way through the dark. Loud Hailer doesn’t give us any definitive answers on those matters though it points in a direction that’s worth supporting: The direction of love and whatever rises to a level beyond tolerance.
Beck has never made a record quite like this before, one that radiates knowledge and tempers cynicism with hope and hope with cynicism. Thank goodness we have it now and for all time.