You wait all decade for one Jeff Beck release – then two arrive in the same month. Six years since Emotion & Commotion, the studio-shy British guitarist has revealed sketchy details of his untitled new album due July 15. Also in July, Beck releases BECK01: a lavish photobook from Genesis Publishing described in this month’s 8⁄10 review as “the book he deserves”.
Beck has promised new studio material for some time, but aside from two cuts featured on last year’s Jeff Beck Live+ – Tribal and My Tiled White Floor – he’s largely spent this decade in touring mode. That changed on April 7, when the guitarist called a playback at Electric Lady Studios in New York, airing 11 new tracks with female vocals and taking questions from the press pack.
The guitarist kept certain key details vague, notably the identity of the female rhythm guitarist who he met at the birthday party of Queen’s Roger Taylor. “We exchanged numbers and she invited me to come see her band. I went out there and it was this small club with about eight people in it, and she and her friend – the vocalist on the album – were just kicking butt. The next stage was they came over to the house. The fire was going, the prosecco was flowing, and we just came up with what you hear – it just flowed out.”
The sessions were driven by gut instinct, Beck stressed, rather than heavy musicianship. “What you hear is the most genuine result that I could come up with, rather than a bunch of musos sitting around trying to gas each other out with as many notes as they could possibly play.”
What was clear from the playback is that Beck wants to break with his guitar wizard reputation. “Rather than do a guitar nerd album,” he told the assembled journalists, “I thought, ‘If I don’t change course now, I’ll be stuck with that Guitar World thing, and that’s not where I come from at all.’
“Even though I’ve been on about 400 of their front covers, I’m not that person.”
Instead, Beck claims to have “been listening to some really deep club stuff from Ibiza”, and to have taken inspiration from the Brazilian drum’n’bass DJ Amon Tobin: influences that are palpable in electro-flavoured cuts like Live In The Dark, Edna and Pull It (a track that makes heavy use of a ring modulator effect). “I’ve always had an ear for modern power,” he said. “You can hear on this album that we made sure the floor would shake.”
If all of that sounds a little dubious, fear not: there are also tracks to tickle Beck’s long-standing fanbase. The star noted that “there’s a lot of Jimi in there”, and that’s most evident in the bluesy solos of Thugs Club and the wah-bolstered Right Now. Scared For The Children finds the guitarist soloing over a slow-blues soundscape, while O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky) evokes Prince at his funkiest and Shrine is perhaps closest to the country stylings of Merle Haggard.
With the mystery vocalist appearing on almost all tracks, Beck’s new material has plenty to say, with Shrine lines like ‘plastic fantastic little creatures’ taking an obvious swipe at reality TV (“That, to me, is just the worst, so that’s my little poke at that”) while The Ballad Of The Jersey Wives salutes the four 9⁄11 widows who lobbied the Bush government for an investigation. Asked outright if this is a protest album, though, Beck was again coy: “It’s an observation. It’s what you make of it, but I do observe.”
The guitarist is more forthcoming in BECK01. Released through the same publisher that produced Ronnie Wood’s How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary, the photobook pairs 400-plus rare and unseen shots from his five-decade career with almost 20,000 words of pithy self-analysis, and it comes finished in leather and pressed aluminium (a nod to Beck’s love of motorsport). With the book also touching on the 71-year-old’s brushes with Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and BB King, it’s a great choice for blues fans.