As we close up our week of alternative rock, I thought it’d be nice to end with a contemporary song. One that was made and released within the last year, that stands as a good example of where alternative music is now.
To do this, I took my cue from the Grammy’s. Our song of the day today comes from Beck’s 2018 album “Colors”, which won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album this year. I could have also chosen a song from The Arctic Monkey’s “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”, or St. Vincent’s “Masseduction”, both of which were nominated. But I think I’ve mentioned both of those albums more than a few times this past year. It’s good to spread the love.
We’ve already seen this week how alternative rock has a close relationship with experimentation. We’ve tracked this trend by looking at Radiohead, Nirvana, and The Flaming Lips, bands that have all paved their own road. Now, we’ll see how artists like Beck are still keeping the tradition of experimentation alive.
“Dreams” is the lead single from Beck’s award-winning album “Colors”. Chances are, you’ve already heard it. There are two versions of the song released with the album. One is dubbed the “Colors Version”. The other includes an extra twenty seconds, and explicit lyrics. So of course, we’ll be looking at the explicit version.
The song is a wild hybrid of styles. It fuses funk, garage rock, pop, and dance, as well as a myriad of instruments and voices to create its textural soundscape. While it follows a simple pop chord progression, there’s little else to Beck’s “Dreams” that is simple.
In an interview with iHeartRadio, Beck sheds some light on the meaning behind the album. “It’s hard to say too much about what this record, Colors, sounds like, because it’ll sound a little different to everybody. But I think you could agree that it has a certain energy; it has a certain sound … something celebratory maybe”.
You can definitely hear the celebratory sound coming out through the production of “Dreams”. The heavy beat and hand claps. The groovy bass. The refreshingly bright guitars. It’s a mood-lifter, for sure.
From the first lines, Beck makes it clear that he isn’t encouraging dreaming. Instead, the song is an attempt to shake all the dreaming people awake.
“Come on out of your dreams
And wake up from your rêverie
Time is here, don’t go to sleep
Streets are running on the brink”
These opening lines are a call to action. Beck is trying to help people escape from escapism as a coping mechanism for hard times. “Streets are running on the brink” could refer to the protests and political turmoil that we’ve all seen the past few years. And with the internet at our fingertips, escaping from the news cycle is as easy as deleting an app. The last lines of the first verse pound the message home.
“‘Cause there’s trouble on the way
Oh, there’s trouble on the way
Oh, get a dog and pony for a judgment day”
While it seems pretty clear what the song’s message is, the lyrics throughout the rest of the song seem almost contradictory. Take the pre-chorus section, for example.
“Here we are (oh oh oh)
Running circles, around around around around (oh oh oh)
When nothing’s right, just close your eyes
Close your eyes and you’re gone”
Here, Beck seems to be encouraging escapism. Or maybe he’s commenting on how easy it can be to escape reality when life gets too hard.
Last year, “Dreams” made my list of top ten songs of 2018. When “Colors” first came out, it was the soundtrack for my life for about a month. While I wouldn’t say that “Dreams” was my favorite alternative rock song that came out last year, it’s definitely up there. It’s more than earned a spot alongside the other songs we covered this week. Best Alternative Music Album? Check. Experimental? Check. Fun and interesting to listen to? Check and check.
That wraps up our week of alternative rock songs. Next week, we’ll switch things up again with another genre.